Runner’s Knee and Compression Gear: One Amateur’s Journey through Pain, Frustration, and Finding a Solution that Works.
Running is a very popular way to achieve physical fitness. However, with running there are so many major muscles groups, ligaments, and joints that are working together in one simultaneous action that injuries are very common. In addition, there are many factors from road conditions, to footwear that can lead to problems. Many runners, like myself, eventually find themselves with an injury that they cannot simply ignore. It is hard to stop a runner once they have experienced that runners high, and injuries are particularly frustrating because exercise alternatives are not nearly as convenient and time efficient as running truly can be.
Some of the most common injuries for road runners are knee injuries. And runners have one that is named just for them: “runner’s knee”. Although runner’s knee is very common with runners it can be caused by any variety of activities that requires the knees to continuously bend, and puts strain on those joints. Sometimes simply overusing this large joint can create a painful strain on the ligaments and muscles that attach and join in and around this area. Runners knee can be a problem for those who are just getting started and have not yet built the necessary strength in their thigh muscles. Runner’s knee can also be caused by an impact. In addition, there are many, like myself, who have flat feet, which, as a result, puts too much pressure on the knees. No matter what the cause a runner is always eager for answers and solutions so that they can get back on the road.
How do you know if its runner’s knee?
Runner’s knee can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms. In my case I felt a pulling sensation on my kneecap and the pain would radiate right up through the major quadriceps muscles. There was extreme tightening of the lower quadriceps and stretching didn’t seem to really attack the pain. The pain was worse when doing normal activities like walking on stairs. Some people, however, experience swelling, and/or popping or grinding sensations in the knee. In order to truly know if you’re experiencing runner’s knee a trip to the doctors might be necessary. Depending on how confident your doctor is he or she might simply diagnose the problem based on your descriptions of the symptoms. However, in order to know with 100% certainty an x-ray, ct scan, or MRI might be necessary.
What to do?
Because there can be a variety of symptoms for runner’s knee there can also be a variety, or combination of treatment options. For everyone with runner’s knee, though, there is one frustrating inevitable treatment. You must abstain from running until the inflammation subsides and the ligament repairs. For me that was not what I wanted to hear. I was hoping, as most patients are, for a quick fix. I did discover that there were ways that I could help speed up the process, and begin on my road to recovery.
How to treat it?
For the patients who are experiencing swelling and grinding, ice is most often the recommended treatment. It will stop the swelling and help to begin the healing. In my case the tightness was almost unbearable at times, like an extreme muscle cramp. So, for me, heat was the best option. The heat, when applied to the sore ligaments, increased blood flow to the area, which helped to repair the ligament. In addition, I would use anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen. The ibuprofen worked by thinning the blood and decreasing the inflammation, which then increases the blood flow to the area and in turn helps to repair the injury. Stretching became very important. I discovered that even if I didn’t feel the pull of a good stretch, by doing this two to three times a day I felt better faster. Then, when I did feel better I started back slowly and with some extra support, which has proven to be dramatically helpful. The first piece of added support were new sneakers, and then arch support insets. Most good doctors will tell you to try the cheap drug store options before you go for the expensive custom fit inserts that a podiatrist would fit you for. My ten-dollar drug store supports are quite comfortable and fit perfectly. Lastly, I added a compression knee sleeve for extra support and it is amazing the results that I have experienced.
Sometimes the inexpensive options work just as well.
The compression craze, and the average person.
We now see compression gear everywhere. Under Armour has made their name by it and it molds the bodies of so many professional athletes. I was skeptical that it would make a big difference for me, an amateur. I bought a $20 Nike, open patella compression sleeve and as soon as I slid it on it seemed to make a difference. The extra pressure on the ligament and the surrounding muscle groups was stabilizing and comforting. If you choose to go this route it is important that you get the right fit. The circumference of your lower thigh will dictate the size, a few inches above the knee. Do measure yourself to get the right fit. Injuries can be exacerbated by something that doesn’t fit right and without the right fit there can be unnecessary rubbing, irritation to the skin, or worse. And, of course, you don’t want to waste you money on something that just wont work. When I purchased mine I wisely, however, decided to take it slow.
Wear your new compression support around the house for a little while, get used to the fit. Make sure that it doesn’t rub or irritate the skin. Some people suffering with runner’s knee even find it helpful to wear the brace not only for workouts but also during the day, or even when icing the injury. For me I wore it doing chores, running errands, and then after one day of wearing it to assure a comfortable fit, I tested it on the road, but first with a brisk walk. Then, I gave it a try with an easy jog on the treadmill. I was sure to stretch following the workout and I used and anti-inflammatory before bed that night. I woke up the next morning feeling great. I then felt confident to test it on the road. I gave myself one more day to make sure that the ligaments were not going to tighten up on me again and then I went for it. I knew that if I made it through the run that might not mean that I was safe from pain. For me the mornings after a run were the worst. I would wake up in the morning, stretch and the ligament would tighten up and not release for a few days.
I ran a rather typical 3.55-mile route and felt pretty good. When I returned home I walked a cool down, stretched, drank plenty of water, and took ibuprofen before bed. When I woke the next morning and stretched the sleep away the knee felt great and consequently, so did I.
As a former athlete, turned fitness runner, an injury is very frustrating and there is nothing worse than having to wait. Although I am not a doctor I found my regiment very successful and it helped me to get back to running within a very short amount of time. Compression gear could be the answer for you, consult your doctor, and give it a try.
Another option is the "closed-patella" brace it all depends on what is comfortable for you
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