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Pain in the knee, often referred to as “runner’s knee,” is one of the most common running injuries, but can be resolved within several weeks with the right recovery methods. The term “runner’s knee” can describe a variety of different knee injuries, but usually includes a dull aching pain behind the kneecap. It’s often caused by overtraining, running too much on hard surfaces, or having tightness or weakness in the hips and glutes. Listed below is my five-step “quick fix” for runner’s knee that should get you back to running normally within one to several weeks. See your doctor or other medical professional if pain worsens or if there is significant swelling around your knee.
Reduce Running Intensity, But Don’t Stop Exercising
Avoid doing any intense running, such as long runs, intervals or speed work, as these may cause further damage to your knee and increase inflammation. If your level of pain is above a 3 out of 10, you may want to stop running entirely. However, you should continue training your cardio with low-impact cross training. Easy, low impact cardio promotes healing by increasing blood flow to the muscles and will prepare your body when you return to running. Aim to cross train for at least the same amount of time as you would run each day.
Self Massage with Foam Rollers, Lacrosse Ball or Other Recovery Tool
Tight quads and hips is often a contributing cause to runners knee. Self massage of your quads, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves is one of the best ways to increase mobility in the knee joint and prevent knee pain. When using a foam roller or lacrosse ball, search for trigger points and hold until the muscle releases. Other recovery tools, such as R8 rollers, massage sticks, etc. have similar benefits. Massage for five minutes before and after sport and upon waking up.
Stretch Quads and Hip Flexors
In addition to self massage, stretching will also help increase mobility and reduce knee pain. Stretching the quads and hip flexors is most important as tight quads can lead to knee pain. Stretches for your quads and hip flexors include the Standing Quad Stretch, Dragon Pose, Hip Flexor Lunge, L7 Stretch and the Half Saddle Pose. Hold each stretch for at least 1 minute and repeat 3 times per day.
Strengthen Hips and Inner Quadriceps
Weakness in the hips or inner quads can cause misalignment of the knee during the running stride, which can cause knee pain. Keeping your hips and quads strong is important for preventing this. Exercises to strengthen your hips and quads include:
- Planks with leg raises: 1 minute per side
- Clamshells: 1 minute per side
- Reverse planks with leg lift: 1 minute per side
- Resisted band walks: 25 steps in each direction
- Do two sets of each exercise, twice per day (6 sets per day).
Return to Running!
Return to running normally when you have no pain, and both knees feel exactly the same. Start back slowly, avoid any intense running, long runs, and run on softer surfaces when possible. Slowly increase your running mileage by five to ten miles per week until you are back to normal (or pre-injury) mileage. Continue doing the exercises and stretches featured above along with regular massage to prevent future knee pain.
Editor’s Note: are you looking for even more strength training ideas to improve your trail running? Consider these articles here on the ATRA website:
- Six Easy Strength Training Exercises for Faster Mountain Running
- 10 Minute Core and Strength Routine for Trail Runners
- Tayte Pollmann’s In-Home Strength Routine for Trail Runners
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