November 18, 2014
Do you want to know the easiest way of getting off the “oh you should take up running” hook?
Easy…respond with an “I would love to but unfortunately I’ve got dodgy knees” combined with a “whats a fat girl to do” kinda look – hands in the air and eyebrows raises are optional, but add value nether the less.
Seriously though guys, damage to your knees (or the fear of damage even) is a real concern for many would be runners, it doesn’t help that those that don’t like the sport of running love nothing more than a half hour rant about how their knee cartilage has never been the same since they did cross-country in 1972.
But please don’t take knee pain as a given, or at least let me share something with you first.
Back in my prime before I took up running, when I was more likely to be seen doing the running man in a nightclub sporting a bottle of WKD and queuing up for a post night out kebab, than I would be in a pair of running shoes, I myself suffered from bad knees. I hadn’t really damaged them specifically but on the odd occasion I did aerobics, or heaven forbid a set of squats I always mouthed “Dodgy knees” to the instructor in the hope they would leave me alone. They did hurt, I wasn’t making it up but looking back now this was simply because they were just incredibly weak through a lack of use, and perhaps the extra weight I was carrying.
In the summer of 2004 I did however damage my knees, and quite severely I stumbled over at Notting Hill Carnival (alcohol may or may not have been involved) and I tore the ligaments in my left knee. I didn’t quite realise what I had done until the following morning by which time I could not move and was in excruciating pain.
I ended up on crutches for 6 weeks, and had to have physio for 6 months to build back up the strength; and you guessed it the pounds just piled on during that time, as I was not able to swim or dance, and I could barely walk in the first few months…and these were the main three ways I controlled my weight.
After that incident I believed I would never be free of knee pain, or be able to do any significant exercise using those joints. Almost a year later I could often still feel a twinge if I walked on uneven ground, or feel something go when I bent down to tie my laces. Then a work colleague suggested I took up running, to which of course I did the whole “I would love to but unfortunately I’ve got dodgy knees” thing and she responded with the comment “running will strengthen your knees like no other sport, but you will have to build up gradually”
And that is exactly what I did and the knee pain slowly but surely disappeared to the point that I don’t even worry about them at all these days, even when doing something like tough mudder with all its slippery mud and uneven surfaces.
I know that not everyone is as lucky as me, and many people to suffer from weak, stiff or painful knee joints, so below are 10 simple things to think about in the quest for happy (OK then happier) knees.
1. Surface – The softer the surface the less impact there will be running through your joints, so where possible stick to trails and grass, and avoid concrete but remember uneven surfaces can also be tricky too, including running tracks which if you always run in the same direction can cause problems, counteract this with doing your warm up and cool down running the opposite way.
2. Warm Up Properly – A few minutes of simply walking will help mobilise the joint and prepare it for exercise, but don’t forget to do some dynamic stretches too, movements like squats and what I like to call bum flicks.
3. Shoes – I had all sorts of pain in my body before I got my first pair of running shoes fitted, ankle, hips and especially knees. the technology available in most shops now allow for your running style and gait to be assessed properly and for shoes to be suggested that will give you the right support to prevent injury. Check out this 2 part blog post about getting shoes fitted, and remember to change them every year or about every 300 miles.
4. Building up gradually – 300 bleedin miles are you kidding? Rome wasn’t built in a day so do not go overboard, start out with a simple round the block route 10 minutes out and the same back. Once you can manage that 3 times a week gradually start building up the distance but paying attention to your body each time, but never more than 10% and giving yourself the occasional week of so you can recover.
5. Knee Supports – Many people swear by knee braces, supports and tape. When I first started out I wore one more for confidence than for anything else, but I found that once I removed it my knee strength improved, so perhaps seek specific medical or sports injury advice on this one.
6. Strength Training – Your knee is a complex joint with multi directional ligaments, muscles and stuff (very medical right) so the best way to build strength is to apply pressure in small doses building up in intensity. Squats done correctly and lunges (which I hate) are great, a kettlebell can be useful bit of kit too.
7. Work your bum – Seriously, a lot of running injurys aches and pains can be caused by having weak glutes (your glutemous maximus, the biggest muscle in your body in case you were wondering) buttock clenches and clams are a good start, but do a google search or check out YouTube for some video demonstrations.
8. Stretching – Think about stretching out all of the muscles in the leg, quads, hamstrings, glutes, calf and IT band. There are all number of stretches to choose from, familiarise yourself with them and perfect your form. Make sure you always stretch after exercise and try to fit in the occasional stretching session between runs. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times
9. Foam Roller – If you can suffer the pain and get the balancing right, a foam roller can really help massage out the pain in your muscles, a tennis ball can also be useful for hard to reach bits, especially if you can get someone to help.
10. Feed the joints – Much of the knee pain we experience is caused by inflammation, so if you eat lost of anti inflammatory foods, well you can kind of guess the results. Fruit and veg, and oily fish are your best bet. I swear by chia seeds too, which I add to almost everything.
Knee pain is a complex issues, and I don’t think we will ever get to the bottom of whether running is good or bad for them. Out of curiosity I asked the ladies on my Facebook page to give me a heads up on their running and knee related issues and it was a real mixed bag, plenty had so called “dodgy knees” but many saw their joints improve with regular exercise.
So I guess the jury is still out….but just for the record my knees are fine…both of them.