How to beat knee pain for good? Before we talk about it I’d like to go over a couple of things that will help us address this topic in the correct manner and from the logical point of view. The truth is that many people can solve their knee issues by simply eliminating damaging actions from their repertoire.
One of my most favorite old jokes is this – a patient complains to the doctor: “Doctor, I’ve done everything possible and I still cannot get rid of the constant splitting headache.” After glancing at the patient, the doctor asks: “Have you tried removing the nail sticking out of your forehead?”
As ridiculous as it sounds, this is similar to what I often see. An athlete, or a recreational runner, doing “everything possible to get rid of knee pain” except for one thing – fixing the very thing that’s causing pain. In running it is connected with technique, which means it’s not running itself, it is how you do your running, i.e. how you run. I don’t care who you are and how you run – if you have knee pain or any other pain when you run, you’re doing it wrong.
There is no question that knee pain may be triggered by various things, the injury can be extremely complicated, it might be very serious and difficult to treat. However, before you get all depressed, let me just say that more often then not, an overwhelming majority of people can experience an immediate improvement and feel less or no pain when they simply correct the way they move when they walk or run.
If you look at any description of any common knee injuries, it is easy to see that most are movement related. As a professionalthat has seen thousands of people with knee injuries I can tell you that people often confuse simple physical movement with self expression. It is not their fault, nobody taught them better. In its essence, any athletic movement is quick and precise. Everything else is an add-on that has more to do with the person doing it than with the movement being done.
After all my years in athletics, allow me to translate it all to running – knee pain or lack there of is 99% dependent on how you run. Majority of runners start out as pain free happy individuals. And what happens? Over time they get injured. And here they go blaming running itself and complaining how it is tough on their body. We can get roughed up in any sport, but in all other sports, we tend to go through extensive technique &strength training. Not so with running.
The Knee is a Joint
Let’s look at the knee. What is it? It is a joint. What is the function of a joint? It connects body parts. Does the joint move? It allows for movement to happen. It is a passive connection. If you make it do something it is not supposed to do, it will suffer the consequences.
- Don’t lock your knees when standing
- Don’t fully straighten your knee when running or walking, regardless of whether it’s the leg upfront or trailing.
- Don’t stomp when walking or running, stay light on your feet.
You cannot make your knees stronger. You cannot make your joints stronger. What you can do is strengthen the muscles of your legs, strengthen your entire body and, most importantly, learn how to move better, so you don’t overload or misuse anything.
You Are a Unit
If this is so obvious than why is it so bluntly ignored? Being a unit, your body should move as a single piece, i.e. all components are part of one whole. The arms, legs, torso, shoulders, feet, elbows, knees, hips, ankles – being part of one unit should move in synergy and in unison, and in order to do so all these various parts of one unit are constricted by nature within a limited operational space. The second you break out of this frame you open the gates to injuries.
- Don’t stick out your legs ahead of your body, that’s not gonna make you run faster, but it will hurt your knees and slow you down. Regardless of what part of your foot you land on, if you land ahead of your body get ready to welcome the shin-splints or runner’s knee (common name for a few ailments, so take a pick)
- Don’t leave your trailing leg trailing by attempting a full knee extension. This achieves nothing. It doesn’t make you faster, it doesn’t serve a purpose, what it does is it throws your body out of balance and then requires an extra time and effort from you to pull your leg in.
- Don’t raise your knees. That move happens in front of you and it throws your legs in front of you. Read above – don’t stick your legs ahead of your body.
- Don’t move your arms excessively, keep them relaxed and close to your body. This also helps with what’s mentioned above.
Running is An Athletic Movement
Running puts a heavy physical demand on our body. If you decided to go out and run, show some self-respect and learn how to run, don’t just throw yourself at the mercy of chance. If you can’t be bothered, you’re better off walking. Majority of people that think they are running are really just walking really fast anyway. I do not mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, but somebody must point out the obvious. No, I’m not trying to take away the pleasure of running from anyone who wants to run, on the contrary I want to show how to enjoy running for a lifetime. If running was so simple and natural as some would like to believe, then we wouldn’t have all these injured runners. Running was natural to our ancestors when their life depended on it and when they lived a different lifestyle. Today’s runners spend most of their day in a chair or moving about a rather small office space.
How to Beat Knee Pain
Consider everything mentioned above and your task of eliminating your knee pain becomes much easier. Pain is a natural signal of trouble. When you experience pain in your knees, icing and resting will help you catch your breath but it won’t end the pain. To end knee pain you must stop doing that which is triggering it – you must correct the way you move. If you are confident that you got your technique right yet still somehow experience knee pain – let me stop your illusions right there, your technique is not right. When your technique is right, you will have no pain.
- Fix your running technique (Get a Running Technique Specialist, if needed get a Physical Therapist to help you speed up the recovery, watch our video and do the drills, read the books…. you have plenty of help, you are not alone in this.)
- Do our running drills regularly, and especially before going out for a run (use drills as a warm up and cool down, just adjust the number of reps and intensity)
- If you haven’t yet, start doing strength training to get your body ready to run.
- Be kind to yourself, give yourself a fair chance and time to learn, enjoy progress of getting better at running.
In conclusion, I must add that knee surgery must be thought of as a very last resort. Once your knee is operated on there is no going back. Over the years I’ve seen two most common trends:
- people decide to learn how to run, put effort into correcting technique and /or hire a Running Technique Specialist, and are still running to this day.
- people decide to keep running as they’ve always done it and use ‘ice and rest’ as part of routine, undergo a knee surgery (sometimes multiple surgeries), and no longer can run as they used to.
So do yourself a favor – if you want to run, learn how to do it first, then getting rid of knee pain won’t even be on your agenda.
By Dr. Nicholas Romanov