In the weeks before a big race, distance runners will ramp up their training regimens and increase their mileage. Unfortunately, the stress of this rigorous routine can often derail race preparations by sidelining runners with patellofemoral pain syndrome (a.k.a. runner’s knee).
Runner’s knee is an ailment that often revisits avid joggers. In order to avoid this vicious cycle, it is vital for runners to practice preventative techniques that lessen the likelihood of chronic patellofemoral pain. If you are not careful, the constant pounding of your feet upon pavement will wear down cartilage, decrease shock absorption and send pain shooting through your knee.
This blog post will outline the underlying causes of runner’s knee and explore best practices for runner’s knee prevention. Read on to decrease your likelihood of dropping out on race day!
What are the causes of patellofemoral pain?
There is a multitude of underlying mechanical issues that may contribute to runner’s knee. Even experienced joggers do not have ideal form when they run, and this imbalance can cause problems with alignment. The mal-tracking or misalignment of the patella exposes cartilage to undue friction—erasing the natural cushion within the knee that absorbs stress. When cartilage is scraped away, runners experience jolts of pain with each stride.
Overpronation or “flat feet” can also trigger the debilitating effects of patellofemoral pain. Without proper arch support, a runner with flat feet will naturally tilt both ankles inward when they jog. This unnatural alignment puts additional stress on the knee and has a degenerative effect on performance.
If a runner fails to stretch properly, tight hamstring and calf muscles can also lead to patellofemoral pain. These muscles need to be elastic and strong in order to maintain equilibrium with the quadriceps (thigh muscle). Runners often disregard the importance of weight training, but weak hamstrings don’t have the strength necessary to adequately stabilise the knee. Weak muscles combined with an increased training regimen often results in damage to the meniscus.
How can joggers prevent and treat patellofemoral pain?
By improving the biomechanical fundamentals of their stride, runners can limit the stress placed on their knees. The key to reducing pain is to shift from a rear foot to a mid-foot strike pattern. Instead of placing full impact upon your heel, ensure that you are hitting the ground with a more graceful motion. By adopting a “barefoot running” style, you can successfully shift stress from your knees to your Achilles. To avoid ACL injuries, make sure that the change to your running style is gradual.
When choosing where you run, pick locations that offer a softer surface and hills with shallow inclines. On the hills, shorten your stride to rebuild your strength and to reduce the workload on your knees. Instead of training on tough, unforgiving concrete streets, try training on dirt nature trails to lessen foot-striking stress. (Plus, you’ll probably have a better view.) If you begin to notice pain returning to your knee, immediately cut back on your mileage.
Another way to eliminate patellofemoral pain is by investing in supportive gear. If overpronation is the source of your discomfort, stick orthopedic inserts in the soles of your shoes for additional support. In theory, these insoles keep your arches upright and keep your hips in alignment. Wearing a knee brace is another effective method for avoiding re-injury. Adjustable braces like our Thermoskin Sport Knee Stabiliser reduce lateral knee pain and compress the muscles surrounding the patella—ensuring proper alignment.
Like most injuries, prevention is the most surefire treatment for runner’s knee. If you do suffer from patellofemoral pain, we suggest scaling back your training regimen, wearing a supportive brace and consulting a physician. Be sure to browse iHealthSphere’s selection of knee supports and to provide us with feedback in the comments section below!