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Causes and tips to resolve that niggly knee during running

Knee pain with running? ‘Runners knee’ is one of the most common running related injury. Here some tips to resolve it.

There are many factors that can predispose us to knee pain whilst running. A common debate is running style with heel strike vs forefoot running battling each other as the culprit of knee pain. Unfortunately, the answer we find isn’t so simple. Studies have found no evidence to support changing a runner’s foot strike leads to reduced running related injuries or improved overall running economy.

Patella ‘knee cap’ tracking tells a similar story whereby commonly those who allow their knees to fall inwards when running have been discouraged to do so. Naturally we will all have different walking and running patterns and again the literature does not support changes in running strategy for this either.

Overuse training such as building up the kilometres very quickly for a pending race or event predisposes our tendon, ligaments, muscles and joints to forces they are not yet adapted to. This can lead to overuse injuries whereby the structures just aren’t quite ready to tolerate all that pounding on the pavement.

So, what can we do? In actual fact, there is a lot that can be done, and most of it comes down to strength and training management. Read on to find out which exercises you can use to sort out that knee pain for good.

Strengthening the Quadriceps

The quadriceps muscles are the power house of the knee and take a lot of credit for helping us to run all those kilometres. Exercises to get the quads stronger include using the knee extension machine, weighted box step ups and a single leg press. Try 3 sets of 12 at a moderate weight to begin and increase to 15 reps when feeling happy with the movement.

Strengthening the Glutes

Similarly, the glute muscles play a great role in helping our knee out by stabilising the pelvis when we run. There are 3 main muscles that make up our glutes. Glute maximus, medius and minimus. Glute medius has been shown to have the greatest importance for stability when we run. Try these 3 exercises which target glute medius – side plank abduction, clam and single leg squat for 3 sets of 10.

Increase your steps (cadence)

Increasing our steps per minute when we run (also known as cadence) reduces the ground reaction force our joints need to handle when we hit the concrete. To do this simply requires shorter strides when running. This in turn can reduce knee pain by reducing the force the knee has to manage when we run repetitively. A real win when your legs are feeling a little tired after all that strength training!

Strengthen the calf

A similar tune to the quads and glutes, but the calf takes a lot of credit when we consider how much of a shock absorber it is when we are bounding forward when we run. Calf strengthening won’t be your favourite exercise but can be done easily at the end of a training session three times a week. Exercises to strengthen the calf include a seated weighted calf raise, a single leg calf raise off a step, or hopping on the spot. Try 3 sets of 10 for calf raising and hopping on the spot for 30 seconds x 4 sets.

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