You don’t have to be a runner to experience runner’s knee. Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, this common overuse injury causes pain at the front of the knee or around or behind the kneecap. “Any repetitive motion can cause inflammation under the kneecaps,” says Beau Sasser, M.D, board-certified orthopaedic surgeon with Summit Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery and medical director of Southeast Georgia Health System’s Sports Medicine program. “It’s common in runners, but also in people active in Cross Fit and those working jobs that require a lot of climbing, kneeling or squatting.”
Unrealistic expectations easily lead to achy knees. “If you’re starting an exercise program, gradually provide more and more stress on your joints to avoid injuries. To prepare for a 5K race, the average person should train for six weeks. Using the Galloway method, you can walk/run in short bursts to build endurance and stamina and gradually gain mileage. Training for a half marathon or marathon can take six months,” Sasser says. A good rule of thumb for runners is, “If you can sing or talk comfortably while running, that’s an optimal pace.”
To prevent runner’s knee, alternate running, Cross Fit and other high impact activities with low impact pursuits such as cycling, swimming, rowing or walking. When cycling, Sasser recommends increasing one element of your ride at a time. “If you normally ride for 30 minutes, gradually increase your ride time by 15 to 20 percent per week or increase your cadence.”
The Golden Isles are blessed with beaches, but save the sand for sprint work. “Short beach runs are okay for ankle strengthening, but run at low tide when the beach is more level. Running on a slope stresses the knees and hips.”
Runners and walkers should replace their shoes regularly, too. Sasser suggests replacing shoes every four to six months if you run 10 to 15 miles per week; walkers can extend that to six to nine months. Buy good fitting shoes and replace the factory insole with gel insoles for extra cushioning. “Orthotics can be very expensive; try over-the-counter orthotics first.”
If you pushed too hard and have recurring pain, stop and rest. “One week off won’t cause significant loss of muscle or stamina. Depending on the injury, you may need four to six weeks of rest before seeing improvement. Use RICE to relieve inflammation: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation,” Sasser says. When the injury heals, return to activity slowly, alternating running with cycling, rowing or other low impact exercises. As you recover, heed Sasser’s warning: “If your knee locks up or catches, or there’s swelling or persistent pain, see a doctor. An X-ray will rule out underlying issues such as arthritis.” On a positive note, there is no evidence showing that runners have an increased risk of arthritis.
Understand Your Body’s Signals
It’s easy to panic when pain strikes, but six to eight weeks of discomfort is common with runner’s knee. “It’s your body saying you’re going too fast. I see this in new moms and others eager to lose weight. When you run, you put up to seven times your body weight on your knee. Excess weight causes more stress on joints. If you go too hard too fast, there’s more risk of injury.”
Whether you’re a new mother ready to return to your pre-baby weight, a couch potato resolved to get fit or an avid runner eager to train for the next race, Sasser’s advice is the same. “Have a sports medicine physician review your exercise program and start slow, with walking, low impact activities and light jogging.”
You may have a marathon on your mind, but remember: Slow and steady wins the race.
• To make an appointment with Sasser, call Summit Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery at 912-466-7340.