Staying pain free: Knee protection when running

Long training sessions across hard surfaces, the pounding of your feet, excess stress on your knee joints – the popular belief seems to be that running is bad for your knees. But this is not necessarily the case. You don’t have to run to develop knee pain or even a condition like osteoarthritis. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that running is actually good for your knees. Running strengthens the muscles around your knees, and maintaining the correct posture and form can help you rehabilitate knee injuries. However, it is important to understand the different types of knee pain so you can put in place the correct knee protection for running.

Types of knee pain include:

· Osteoarthritis – Symptoms usually include swelling and stiffness in the knee, and pain while running or even standing. This is to do with a wearing away of cartilage, the knee’s protective shield, which causes the bones in your knee to grind against one another.

· Runner’s knee – This is usually a pain located under the kneecap which can be aggravated by running. It has to do with the alignment in your knee that moves when running and inflames your cartilage.

· Iliotibial band syndrome – This condition tends to affect long-distance runners. The pain comes from your iliotibial band when it rubs against the outside of the knee joint.

· Patellar tendinitis – This generally stems from an injury to the tendon which connects your kneecap to the shinbone. With this, you feel pain below your kneecap and the top of your shin.

Relieving pain and future-proofing yourself: Knee protection for running

Perhaps one of the reasons that running is sometimes said to be bad for your knees is because there is a knee condition out there known as ‘runner’s knee’. This is a nickname that refers to several conditions which lead to pain around the kneecap. While it’s true that runners can develop knee conditions, these conditions also affect non-runners in equal measure.

However, if you suffer from pain around your knee, it can feel worse after running, or even after walking up and down stairs. It’s important to take measures to treat the condition as well as protect yourself ahead of future exercise.

· Shorten the length of your route – It can be difficult to reduce the amount of running you like to do per session, especially if you are training for a race, like a 10K or marathon. But by running shorter distances, you naturally reduce the levels of impact on your joints. And once you feel better as a result, you can up your distance once again.

· Apply ice – This is a classic, for a reason. The pain in your knee is most commonly the result of inflammation around the knee joint and cartilage. By applying ice several times daily, you are directly treating the cause of the pain as well as numbing it at the same time. Wrap ice (or a bag of frozen vegetables – peas are a good option) in a towel and hold it against your knee for 10 to 15 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day.

· Over-the-counter medication – When considering painkillers at your local store, opt for anti-inflammatories rather than analgesics. Most anti-inflammatories also offer analgesic effects but they have the added benefit of reducing the swelling in your knee as well as relieving the pain. As with any medication, use caution. Even though they are sold over the counter, these medications, when taken in large doses over long periods of time, can damage the liver, or cause gastrointestinal issues like ulcers or bleeding. They should be seen as a temporary measure until the injury heals, not a permanent solution in an attempt to ignore it.

· Build your muscles – This is a good idea, even you don’t suffer from knee pain. By building up and strengthening your leg muscles, you take a lot of pressure off your knees. Building these muscles is also important to improve your running form, alignment and posture. This not only helps you to recover from knee pain but make you less susceptible to similar injuries in the future.

· Self-myofascial release – Using a foam roller can be a great way to reduce soreness in your muscles, remove knots and help improve flexibility. A lot of the time, the pain associated with your knee actually originates from other areas of your body, notably your hips, lower back and quad muscles. By using a foam roller on your quads and other areas daily, you can release a lot of tension and improve blood circulation and range of motion for your muscles. Better flexibility takes the pressure off your knee joints when you walk or run (or even as you stand) and can reduce the pain you’ve been experiencing.

· Taking time off the track – Sometimes you just need to let yourself heal. Take a break from running for a few weeks and concentrate on other ways of staying active, like swimming or strength training in a gym.

Find the support you need – knee protection for runners

Another way to help relieve pain and give your knees the right support is the use of knee straps and kneepads for running. These braces are made from elasticated material that cover or wrap around the knee, supporting it, without hindering your ability to run.

Wearing knee straps or pads can:

· Reduce pain
· Provide support
· Enable proprioception

If you run a lot, a knee brace may help minimise the impact of your sessions and give your knees that extra bit of help to heal. If you are suffering knee pain, why not try one out and see if it makes a difference? More importantly, the first step is to understand the type of pain you are experiencing, so you can take the right steps towards making a full recovery.