Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise around and it’s easy to see why! It costs absolutely no money to do it, it’s accessible because it can be done anywhere, and it can be as inclusive or reclusive as you’d like it to be. Motivation for runners can also vary widely. Some people run to lose weight while others take to the pathways to keep mentally and physically healthy. Some do it to have time to reflect, and others love the social aspect of running with their friends or family.
Whatever your motivation and no matter your experience level, anyone can be affected by a running injury – the most common of which is the knee.
By understanding why injuries happen, what to do if you do incur one, and how to prevent another from happening, you’ll put yourself in the best position for long term running success.
What Does A Knee Injury Look Like?
Running is a high impact exercise which means that many structures inside and outside the knee are being engaged whenever you hop on the treadmill or hit the running paths. Overuse, poor form, or even sudden stops or changes in direction can lead to dislocations, sprains, tears, and even fractures.
The parts of your knee that are the most vulnerable to running injuries are:
Ligaments – a fibrous connective tissue which attaches bone to bone and serves to holdstructures together and keep them stable.
Tendons – connective tissue that attaches your muscles to your bone.
Cartilage - the smooth tissue that covers the ends of bones, such as your shinbone, thigh bone, and kneecap, where they come together to form joints. Cartilage allows the bones to glide over each other with very little friction.
To put some of these into perspective, here are some of the most common knee injuries that runners come across:
Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), this condition refers to the knee pain associated with your patella or kneecap. It is caused by a muscle imbalance in your knee that results in poor knee tracking. The main symptom, as the name suggests, is pain around the knee when you run. It will range from dull or sharp and usually gets worse as the intensity of your workout increases.
Chondromalacia Patella (CMP)
Chondromalacia patella refers to damage done to the cartilage in your kneecap. It is a chronic condition that causes the cartilage to soften and deteriorate resulting in inflammation and pain. While it has several causes, the most common ones are overuse of the knee and alignment problems. It often flares up when going up or down inclines (such as stairs or hills) and may feel worse after having your knees bent for longer periods of time (such as when you’re sitting).
IT Band Syndrome (ITBS)
Your iliotibial (IT) band is a tendon that connects your knee to your hip and aids in stabilising your knee. IT band syndrome (ITBS) occurs when this tendon tightens and becomes inflamed – usually due to overuse. It causes persistent pain on the side of the knee.
ACL and PCL Tears
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, keeps the knee from sliding forward. The PCL, or posterior cruciate ligament, keeps the knee from sliding backward.Tears occur when these ligaments are overstretched, and are often a result of when a runner stops suddenly, changes direction quickly, lands incorrectly on their feet, or collides with something/someone. It causes pain and swelling around the knee and may cause the leg to give way out from beneath the runner.
When Should I Seek Help?
Whether you’re running for stress relief or training for a race, it’s perfectly normal to have aches and pinches along the way. However; it’s important to recognize that pain when it comes along and treat it promptly and correctly in order to stop it from becoming something more serious and potentially long term. A timely response will help you avoid injuries that could pull you from the pavement for longer than you’d want.
Most knee injuries in runners can be resolved by conventional methods such as rest, ice and stretching… but being proactive is key!
However, if your pain is lingering for a week or more you should seek out a medical professional.
A physiotherapist will help design you a recovery plan that will help strengthen your knee through exercises, stretches, and clinical treatment. They can help you correct your running form to prevent further injury, as well as walk you through the prescribed routines to make sure that each exercise is being done correctly. Improper stretching can lead to more problems so it’s important to have a professional assessment so that they can adjust your form and answer questions as needed.
A physiotherapist can also give you a routine to implement before and after physical activity to help ensure that you’re giving yourself the best opportunity to avoid re-injury. They may also recommend additional treatments such as orthotics, acupuncture, or massage.
If your pain is severe or your knee is swollen you should see your doctor straight away as some injuries can only be healed through surgery and it’s important to get that diagnosed promptly. They will perform a physical examination of your knee and may order additional testing like an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan to get a full prognosis.
If you’d like to learn more about preventative measures you can take, or are looking to treat an existing knee injury, give us a call or contact us online. We’d be more than happy to talk you through any questions or concerns that you may have about your injury and let you know about treatments that can help. Your health is most important to us and we look forward to getting you back on track!