By Shawn McClendon
Two months ago, I began training for the Macon Labor Day Road Race 5K, which I run almost every year. I tried getting a head start on training by starting a month earlier than usual, since I have a goal of beating one of my former co-worker’s personal records.
Anyhow, I made the mistake of doing too much, and soon enough I developed a pain in my left knee. Being somewhat stubborn, I continued running through the pain until finally giving in to my inner promptings to rest. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to train since then because some of that pain still persists.
I share this with you because I know that many of you also suffer from knee pain. You may have developed it from doing too much like I did, or you may have a more accident-based injury.
In the process of nursing my own knee injury, I’ve learned that my rapid increase in running wasn’t the only contributing factor. I had quite a few other factors predisposing me to the injury that I would like to share with you to help you nurse your knees back to health or to altogether prevent injury.
Shoes: Don’t play around when it comes to shoes, especially when running or playing sports. Shoes wear out unevenly over time according to your gait, which shifts your knee and can cause problems over time. That’s why it’s recommended that you change out your running shoes roughly every 3-6 months. I won’t say exactly how long I had my other running shoes, but let’s just say it was years longer than that.
Running on hard surfaces: Running on asphalt or concrete might keep your shoes clean, but it’s a no-no when it comes to your knees. Such running transfers much of the shock from pounding the pavement to your knees and hips, possibly damaging the cartilage. Running on grass or dirt is better because the softer surface absorbs more of the shock.
Strength of the muscles around the knees: Do those kneecaps feel a bit jiggly? Sometimes, a lack of strength in the muscles that hold the knee cap in place can lead to issues such as patellofemoral syndrome, which is pain in front of the knee. Those muscles can easily be strengthened by performing leg lifts, or by sitting on the ground with your legs straight and flexing your knees for several reps each day.
Tight hamstrings: I have very tight hamstrings, and many of you do as well. How am I so confident? Because many of you have desk jobs like me. Sitting, while comfortable, shortens your hamstrings and leads to muscular imbalance around the knee. This means it’s mandatory for you to regularly stand up and stretch those hamstrings.
Weak glutes: If you sit all day, chances are that your glutes are weak as well. The inactivity from sitting weakens them, and walking and running don’t particularly strengthen them either, unless you use stairs, run/walk up hills or practice sprints. This can lead to a pain on the side of the knee called iliotibial band (IB) syndrome. That said, take the stairs or incorporate lunges into your workout to strengthen your glutes and further protect yourself from knee injury.
Now remember, all of this will not help you unless you actually try it. I personally recommend all of this myself since I am experiencing improvement in my knee. Remember also that depending on your injury, it may be wise for you to pay a visit to your physician as well.