How to Care for Your Knees as a Runner
Running can be a great outdoor activity to delve into for building both physical and mental stamina as the weather warms up, but it can definitely wreak havoc on your knees if you aren’t careful. In fact, the term “runner’s knee” is commonly used to refer a variety of knee conditions that affect runners, jumpers, and cyclists alike after increased amounts of stress are put on the knees. These conditions can vary from inflamed tendons and cartilage damage, to the discomfort that arises from contact of the patella (knee cap) with the femur (thigh bone).
At the beginning of a heavy 5K and marathon season, be sure to keep these tips in mind so that your knees will remain strong throughout the many miles ahead of you.
1. Watch your running form.
Your running form has a large impact on how your body feels after a run. Be sure that when you run you aren’t leading with your legs; your legs should instead swing to the rear during the course of your stride. Leading with your legs will cause your heel to come down harder and require your knees to act as shock absorbers—and that’s not what they’re designed for. Moreover, be sure to keep your joints soft at all times to prevent any unnecessary stress on them.
2. Give your feet the support they need.
It’s true: A good pair of running shoes matched to your particular gait is vital to maintaining healthy joints. For example, are you an overpronator (meaning you have flatter arches, and thus your feet roll too much inward when making contact with the ground)? You’ll need stability shoes that will help your feet maintain the right amount of shock absorption in the right places in your feet. It’s a great idea to stop by a shoe store that specializes in running shoes so that they can match you with a pair of shoes that will offer your feet the right amount of support that they need.
3. Stretch, stretch, stretch.
This may be a no-brainer, but it’s worth the reminder since it can be incredibly tempting to skip stretching to get that long run over with. Stretching keeps your muscles and joints supple, and doing so after a “warm-up lap” is ideal during a running workout.
4. Run on softer surfaces.
Trail running is great because it offers your legs a running surface that isn’t quite as hard as concrete and pavement. Running tracks are also great because their surfaces are generally made from softer synthetic materials.
Don’t forget to explore other forms of exercise such as swimming or yoga. Strengthening your body in other ways will give your knees a break from the stress of running and better prepare them for hitting the trail again.
6. Don’t push yourself.
If your knees are telling you that they have been undergoing too much stress lately, listen to them. It is far better to forego a run in the interest of giving your knees a break than to accidentally overwork your knees and send them out of commission for weeks, or even months.