Ah yes, running – that sport that most tend to love or hate, but is relatively cheap and easy to do. It’s an efficient way to improve your cardiovascular health, as it decreases blood pressure and cholesterol, and like any good form of exercise, can help manage stress levels. Maybe you don’t consider yourself a “runner” but in these times of social distancing, many of us are turning to walking and running to keep us healthy.
Running is a repetitive activity, which can lead to overuse problems. One issue that occurs frequently in runners we call “runner’s knee,” or patellofemoral pain syndrome. As scary as it sounds, what it means is that a runner feels pain around their patella, or kneecap, and perhaps into the tendon below it. They may feel it while running, but it may be exacerbated after, and especially with squatting motions, going up and down stairs, or even getting in and out of a chair.
Does this sound familiar? Don’t fret! There are things you can do to prevent a worsening problem. Running was the ticket that got me into a career as a physical therapist, so if your knee hurts as a result of more running, I literally feel your pain.
- Vary your routine. If you’re walking or running daily, take a day off. Sometimes rest is just what the doctor ordered. Add in stretching and mobility work (like yoga, if you’re familiar with it).
- Try mini squats with your heel raised. You can do this with both legs or one at a time. This will not be pain free but work to a point where you rate your knee pain as mild to moderate – no higher. The more you do, the better it will feel. I promise. Perform 12 to 15 repetitions for two sets and aim for twice daily. If you don’t have a fancy step like this image, that’s okay. You can get the same effect by resting your heel at the edge of a step, or by standing with your heel on a heavy, sturdy book. If you’re weird like me and have a weight plate at home, use that. (image from www.HEP2go.com, accessed 4/8/2020)
- Work on side stepping with your knees slightly bent, keeping your toes pointed forward. Having strong, stable hips helps support everything else down the chain. This exercise helps incorporate your hip abductors and external rotators, which help control the rotation of your knees to keep them in better alignment. If you have a resistance band, tie it above your knees for extra challenge. If you’re feeling ambitious, try it with the band around your ankles, then around the balls of your feet. The lower the band, the higher the resistance.
As with any injury or concern, it’s always best to get an evaluation and guidance by a physical therapist, as not every exercise will work for everyone. BUT, try them out, and reach out to us if you need more help!
Written by Laura Vroman