Runners Knee explained and three ways to train your way out of pain

Picture credit: Girls Run The World


Knee pain can take many people out of action, from beginners to seasoned athletes. Girls Run The World founder Rachael Woolston explains what causes it and what you can do to prevent and recover from it…..

All too often, we ignore knee pain, pushing it away thinking that it will go away or that the pain is just in our head. But when it turns into a persistent, nagging ache, sharp pain or even feels like ground glass under the kneecap, you know it is time to address the issue. Here we explain the mechanisms behind knee pain and how to work through it.

What causes knee pain?

The knee is composed of two joints: the tibiofemoral joint, between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone), and the patellofemoral joint, between the femur and patella (knee cap). Each works as an anchor point for multiple tendons, fascia, and other structures, including the IT band – or illitobial band.

If you have poor biomechanics – essentially, the way your body moves – this is caused by a muscular imbalance, lack of strength or building volume too quickly. Repetitive movement on poor imbalanced muscles can irritate the knee and result in anterior knee pain—a catchall category for general pain in the front of the knee.

What causes muscular imbalance?

While you may be forgiving for thinking that this stems from weak muscles around the knee, the actual stabilising muscles for the knee are found in the hips – the gluteal muscles. When these muscles are weak or imbalanced, your knee can not keep proper alignment when you land or take off from the floor when running, for instance, or when pushing through a pedal on a bike.

And to further complicate matters, once the pain signals to your brain that there is a problem, your body can shut off key muscles and this can cause further stiffness.

Can you train your way out of knee pain?

If your knee pain came on gradually over time and you have no excessive swelling, some of the moves below may help increase the functional strength and mobility of the muscles that support your knee and improve your biomechanics.

Try this test; stand on one leg and do a couple of one-legged squats and watch how your leg moves. “If this causes pain, or your knee wobbles or rolls inward, these exercises could help.” explains Girls Run The World physiotherapist Dawn Buoy.

Try these exercises, or if you have been diagnosed with ITBS try Girls Run The World on demand programme, ITB Rehab and Return to Running, a fully comprehensive physiotherapist-designed programme to rehab and prehab knee pain.

Calf and ankle mobility greatly affect how the rest of the leg responds. Exercise: One leg at a time, place the ball of your foot on the edge of a step and lower your heel to gently sink into a calf stretch. Keep pelvis level.. Hold for 30 seconds on each leg. Repeat x3.

Fire Hydrants: Helps you gain core stability and works the glute muscles. Check out the below video to see how to perform these correctly.

Girls Run the World are offering Brighton marathon members an exclusive 30% lifetime discount off their membership.  Try a free 14 day trial and use the code GRTWBM. If you continue you could gain training support for £16 per month. 

Article brought to you by the Official Training Partner for Brighton Marathon Weekend, Girls Run The World

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