I hear people complaining about lower back pain when running, chest or hip pain. Some have calf or ankle pain but none of these are my thing. My problem are my knees, they hurt especially during and after my long distance runs. And man, they hurt like a bitch.
You might have heard of runner’s knee (patellofemoral syndrome). Studies say, at least half of the runners go through runner’s knee issues being also the first sports injury for runners. I think is safe to say that knee pain is the most common issue runners can experience. And believe me is not a good experience.
Talking about myself, pretty much every time I run over 15-20 kilometers my knees become painful and they will stay painful for a day or two. Since only half of the runners experiencing knee pain would have runner’s knee, it’s a 50/50 chance for me to have it too though I don’t think it’s my issue. It’s too temporary to treat it seriously so I’m not really concerned about it to consult a sports medic, not for now.
Anyway, because it’s the only thing that affects my running, I focused my attention to it over the last months and I found a couple of things that might help you as well. In my case there are four factors that appear to contribute to knee pain:
- Running uphill and downhill
- Running at a much faster than the regular pace
- Running consecutive days with no breaks
- Running over 20 kilometers or a combination of these factors
Running is hard on knees, no surprise there but you might wonder, like I do, why your knees still hurt even after hundreds of even thousands of kilometers of running? Shouldn’t be enough for your body to adapt to it? Well, apparently not.
Knee pain when running: a medical explanation
I’m not going to go into too much medical stuff since I’m not a doctor but in short the knee is a modified hinge joint also known as tibiofemoral joint. It joints together three bones, femur, tibia and patella. Simply said, the muscles from the front of your thigh called quadriceps extend your leg and control the kneecap while the muscles from the back of your thigh called hamstrings flex your leg.
Because running is a repetitive sport, bending and flexing the knee can irritate the nerves around your patella and strain your tendons causing knee pain. But the explanation I found more accurate and more specific to runners is that the leg muscles become more stronger with training than the knee articulation (basically the tendons and cartilages in your knee capsule fall behind becoming weaker than your leg muscles). This results in the kneecap being stretched more than usual being pulled by the strong muscles over the femur end which ultimately brings inflammation in the area. Add repetition to this and it’s the recipe to pretty much any sports injury.
A couple of possible fixes would be icing the area before and after long runs, doing some proper warm ups before and some stretching after running or/and using a knee sleeve.
What seems to work for me and I will continue doing it, is strengthening my knees with exercises like straight legs rises, hamstring curls and wall squats. If you go this path just be aware that the wall squats can do more harm than good if you don’t do it properly. I wouldn’t recommend any form of training if your knees are very painful for more than a day or two. Rather go see a doctor, get some checkup done and make sure you don’t aggravate your situation instead of improving it.