Tips for Avoiding Runner's Knee

For many, running is more than just a chore-like prescription for cardio. It can represent alone time, it can be meditative, it requires discipline, and that in itself can bring gratification and accomplishment. Biologically, running releases endorphins and of course, it can significantly transform your body when done with dedication and coupled with a healthy diet.


But it can also take a toll on your body. So much so that it has its own assigned ailment, runner’s knee doled out to those who get worn down by the repetitive and grueling task. Runner’s knee is very common, simply coming as the result of pounding pressure being applied to the joints. “Runner’s knee is basically a general term which encompasses multiple diagnoses,” says Trent Nessler, PT, MPT, DPT, National Director of Sports Innovation at Select Medical and creator of the Run Safe Program.


There are many different forms of, descriptions for, and symptoms of runner’s knee, but they are all more or less the result of wear and tear on the knee from repetitive motion, pressure, and impact. While the different ailments that fall under the umbrella of runner’s knee are deserving of their own blog post, most people are more concerned with what they can do to prevent it outside of just not running altogether.


With that said, what are the things one can do to minimize the risks or possibly prevent runner’s knee?


Build a Stronger Lower Body and Core

The stronger everything remains from the midsection down, the less load you ask your knees to carry while running.


“Weakness throughout the lower kinetic chain can add to an increased risk for runners knee,” says Nessler.  “If you address the most common physical weaknesses seen in the majority of runners [which occur in the lower body and core]…most will not only have a dramatic reduction in runner’s knee but will [also] have a reduction in all lower limb injuries.”


Functional exercises like squats, planks, and lunges will all strengthen this part of your body and condition is better for running.


Think About Your Shoes

Getting the most expensive shoe is not necessarily the answer here. You must consider what’s best for you specifically. “Poor shoes or being fitted with the wrong shoe can significantly alter force attenuation during running,” says Nessler. “Absorbing shock (or force) is vital to preventing shin splints and runner’s knee.”


Nessler suggests an actual running evaluation that will help you understand your own personal performance and insights on how you run. “Using a 3D wearable sensor, we have the athlete run in three different types of shoes.  This system will provide us with right and left IPA (initial peak acceleration — how well you control the foot into the ground), right and left ground reaction force at midstance, and stance time on the right and left.  This allows us to directly see how well they are controlling the forces through the lower limb and which shoe provides them with the optimal performance.”


Next up, once you find the right shoes, you can’t keep them for too long. Your favorite pair of running shoes may have stuck with you through thick and thin and logged a lot of miles, but they certainly have a shelf life. Nessler suggests putting a cap on each pair at about 500 miles and possibly just over half of that distance if you want to be diligent. The more wear and tear on those shoes, the less shock absorbing properties they retain, giving the brunt of that load instead to your body.

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