What is a Runner’s Knee and How can you avoid it?

Runner’s knee is a fairly common condition in athletes, and it can be very painful and distressing. If you want to understand what causes a runner’s knee and how it can be possibly avoided, this article can help. Let’s first understand what exactly causes Runner’s knee and why it is so painful and debilitating.

Your knee is formed where your thigh bone joins your two shin bones. Those three bones are connected by a small bony cap called the patella. The dynamic functions of your knee are actually maintained by a variety of ligaments and tendons connecting all of the bones and muscles that form your knee. They surround the patella in all directions, they pass in between the patella and the long bones behind it, and they strengthen your knee.

What happens in the condition of Runner’s knee is that one of those supporting ligaments or tendons gets “strained” or “overly stretched.” In the worst-case scenario, it can be torn. Usually, however, it’s not torn but just sore and weakened due to excessive stretching. Obviously, normal movements of the knee joint don’t cause that over-stretching of the structures around it.

However, certain abnormal postures that you can unconsciously attain when you are exhausted from running too much can cause the problem. So, here are a few tips to help you avoid it.

Increasing your training volume

When trying to increase their stamina, most athletes will push their limits and try to do more and more running with every passing day. However, that can go very wrong. There’s a safety limit within which you should increase the stress on your muscles in a given amount of time. So, here’s my first tip for you to help you avoid getting Runner’s knee: Don’t increase the burden of exercise on your body more than 10 percent per week.

For example, if you are running for 30 minutes every day in one week, you shouldn’t increase it to over 33 minutes in the next week. Keep it within that range of 30 to 33 in the next week, and you’ll be safe from the conditions caused by this overstretching. Remember, even at this rate, you will have increased your stamina from 30 minutes to 40 to 45 minutes of running by the end of the month.

This rule doesn’t apply only to running but to all kinds of exercises. It’s not just your knee that can be affected by the extra, sudden stress that you’re applying on it. You need to give your body time to adapt as you move up the ladder of workout difficulty levels.

Maintain your flexibility

When you crack your knuckles, you actually release the pressure built up in your finger joints slowly. Similarly, pressure can get built up in your knee joint which must be released to make sure that you can perform at your best. Here are a few exercises that you can do to maintain your mobility and flexibility and avoid Runner’s knee plus any occasional discomfort or pain in your knee that you can get from exercising.

Exercise 1

A Kneeling Hip Flexor and Quad Stretch can be a great way to start. Here’s how you can perform it:

  1. Kneeling with one knee on the floor, bend your other leg to 90 degrees in front of you where your thigh is horizontal and your shin vertical.
  2. Squeeze your glutes or your hip muscles and slightly shift your weight forward while maintaining an upright torso.
  3. Finally, reach back with both of your hands to hold the foot of your kneeling leg and hold it upwards to stretch that leg for 20-30 seconds in this position. 

You can cushion the knee which is touching the floor to maintain this position comfortably with both legs one by one.

Exercise 2

A glute stretch can be very important in maintaining the flexibility of your body. Your gluteus maximus is a hip muscle which is the largest muscle in your body, and its flexibility plays a major part in running exercises. Here’s how you can do a glute stretch:

  1. Lie face up on the floor with your knees and hips bent.
  2. Place your right ankle across your left thigh.
  3. Grab your left thigh with both hands and pull it gently towards your chest.
  4. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds before you switch legs.

This exercise can be painful due to inward or outward stretching of your knees, so you will have to remember to try to restrict that movement.

Exercise 3

  1. Stand on the edge of a curb or step.
  2. Place your left foot on the ground while keeping the ball of your right foot on the step.
  3. Allow your right heel to drop below the step.
  4. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds before you switch sides.

Exercise 4

I really recommend using foam rollers for this exercise, although you can use any alternative means of support.

  1. Lie on your right side and place the foam roller just below your right hip.
  2. Cross your left leg over, and place it on the ground in front of you.
  3. Keep your right hand or forearm on the ground to stabilise yourself.
  4. Using the left leg, push yourself down the foam roller, stopping just above your right knee.
  5. Repeat the same motion back up towards your hip.
  6. Repeat this movement as many times as you find necessary, and then switch sides.

Exercises for strength and stability

Being stable on each leg is very important for a runner as you will be shifting your weight from one leg to the other all the time during running.

Exercise 1

A single leg squat can help you improve the strength in your glutes while activating your quads and all the muscles in your lower limb. During the squat, you don’t need to go as deep as possible but make sure that every muscle in your body is well-aligned. The hips should be level while the knee tracks nicely over the foot.

  1. Stand with both feet pointing forwards, hip wide apart.
  2. Lift your left foot off the ground and balance on your right foot.
  3. Now bend your right leg and slowly lower yourself while making sure that your knee doesn’t go past your foot or lean forward.
  4. Push back up slowly to your starting position.

Three sets of five reps per leg can be enough for starting off, and you can increase it over time.

Exercise 2

Side leg lifts focused on trunk stability and strengthening can also help.

  1. On your side, support yourself on your elbow and your knee closest to the ground by bending your leg behind you, make sure your hips are level and on top of each other.
  2. With a straight top, raise your hips off the floor to a comfortable height without moving the rest of your body, then slowly drop that leg back down.

In this exercise too, you can start off with three sets of five reps per leg.

Exercise 3

The clamshell can really help to activate, strengthen and stabilise the hip region which can prevent the knees from being unstable or overworking to compensate.

  1. Lie on your right side with your knees bent on top of each other and your right arm under your head to support it
  2. Keeping your feet together, open the clamshell by lifting your top knee up. You should make sure that your pelvis and core remain stable.
  3. Slowly close the clamshell, repeat 15 times and switch.

In conclusion, maintain your body’s strength and flexibility through these exercises and avoid overstressing your body to avoid getting a runner’s knee. These exercises are a great way to stay fit and active as an athlete while avoiding several sports injuries.

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