Running or jogging is a form of exercise which almost every one of us is doing it every day. No matter you are taking running as a form of leisure exercise or as a professional athletic career, there are times where you may experience knee pain after running. This is a common problem which can cause by several factors which you may not even notice:
- Inadequate warm-up before run
- Inadequate cool down after run
- Wrong techniques of running, splinting or jumping
- Over-training and running beyond the usual limit (Eg: sudden increase in your mileage)
- Improper shoes wear
- Insufficient rest between interval runs despite signals of sore knees
- Weak quadriceps muscles (major muscle group which supports your knee during movements)
However, to relieve knee pain is not a problem as simple as what you think just by taking painkillers and carry on running. You may be surprised that the problem can be manifested due to the several underlying mechanics which is working at the knee joint.
Knee joint is one of the largest joints in our body. In the knee itself are the medial collateral ligaments (MCL) and the lateral collateral ligaments (LCL) which are located on each side of the knee. In the center of the knee, going from top to bottom and front to back, are the anterior (ACL) cruciate ligaments and posterior cruciate ligaments (PCL). The function of these ligaments is to stabilize the knee joint so that there will not be any knee pain after running.
But, if any of these ligaments are twisted due to a fall, subject to direct trauma or by jumping down and landed on a bent knee, it will lead to damages, resulting in knee pain. When the ligaments are torn or over-stretch, pain is experienced inside the knee cap, with swelling and a sensation like the knee is going to “give out”. This condition of knee pain also known as runner’s knee.
Knee pain can also occur when there are damages to the cartilage. The cartilage helps to protect and cushion the knee with spongy material to keep the joint bones from touching each other. The menisci, a rubbery wedge-shaped cartilage tissue which is located at the joint space work as a shock absorber and keeps the weight distributed across the knee evenly.
There are two parts to the menisci. The part which is outside (lateral meniscus) has a small blood supply, whereas the part of the menisci inside the knee (medial meniscus) has no blood supply. Once this meniscal cartilage is damaged, it takes a long time to heal since the blood supply is being disrupted. If a person continues running with the injury, it will cause more damages not only to the menisci but also to the ligaments.
Besides the ligaments and cartilage, tendons are also affected when there is any damage to the knee. Tendons are elastic white fibrous cords that cross and attach near the knee joint, connecting the muscles to the bones. They can tear from repetitive overuse or sudden and rapid stretching of the muscles. A partial tear to a tendon can take 2 to 8 weeks to completely heal depending on how bad the tear is. Tendon damages can cause pain around and inside the joint.
The bursa is located below the ligaments and tendons on both the medial and lateral sides of the joint. It is filled with fluid and helps to pad the tendons, bones, muscles and the ligaments to decrease friction. If there is knee pain after running, the bursa has probably become swollen and required treatment. If this is left untreated, the bursa can become irritated and affect nearby tendons or ligaments.
Chondromalacia patella, damages to the patella cartilage is also one of the common causes of knee pain after running. It is known as patellofemoral pain syndrome or runner’s knee. The knee joint is made up of the femur at the top, the tibia and fibula are located at the bottom. The knee cap runs in a track that goes in a groove over the knee joint. On the back of this bone is cartilage that helps the patella track work.
Holding the knee cap in place are the ligaments and tendons. When there are any patella injuries, knee pain is felt behind or below the knee cap. This pain is generated from irritated innervated bones which are in the knee cap and retinaculum. The pain will get worse when you sit down for a long period, walking down the stairs or running down a hill/ slope.
When there is any form of knee injuries, repetitive motions of bending in and out can irritate the nerves, resulting in intense pain. The physical stress of bearing too much weight which is not evenly distributed adds on to the pain and discomfort. People who had flat feet or fallen arches are also prone to the risk of knee pain. The impact of running with flat can cause the arches of the foot to collapse totally which stretches the knees and nearby tissues.
Signals of knee injuries after running include:
- Where the knee cap and the thigh bone meet, there is pain around or behind the knee cap.
- Pain behind the knee when in running, squatting, kneeling or walking position.
- Pain is experienced while walking down a hill or flight of stairs. The intensity of the pain increases especially at rest.
- Swelling, redness and stiffness of the knee.
- Popping sound or grinding noise in the knee joints.
- Difficulties in flexing or straightening the knee.
It is advisable to consult a doctor who can provide thorough examination and diagnosis on the underlying causes of the knee pain. This can include MRI’s (Magnetic Resonance Imagery), CT scan or any other diagnostic tests.
Generally, if the injury is minor to moderate, then the knee should heal itself at its own pace. However, there are 8 pain relief tips which you can use to relieve knee pain after running:
- The knee should be rested as much as possible (at least 2 days). Try to minimize movements and avoid putting weight on the injured knee by standing or walking too long. Use crutches when moving around.
- Use a compression wrap to protect the knee. If it is a severe injury, used knee brace to help stabilize the joint.
- Ice pack can be applied to the injury every hour for 15 minutes for the first day of the injury. Subsequently, you can then applied 4 times a day until the pain has lessened and the swelling has gone down.
- Elevating the knee with a pillow under it when lying down or sitting up. This will reduce the strain and keep some of the swelling down.
- Anti-flammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help control pain and reduce swelling. Seek medical advice when taking these drugs though because overdose of Aspirin can increase the risk of ulcers and bleeding and liver damage from Acetaminophen.
- If your doctor recommends it, practice gentle stretching and strengthening exercises. These will not only help to recondition the knee but also regain the strength as well as co-ordination of the knee joint and other leg muscles.
- Arch supports can help with flat feet. Put them into shoes and the arch supports will support the arches and provide relief for collapsed arches.
- If nothing else works, then surgery may be the last option. Surgery may involve with removing the damaged cartilage or correcting the knee cap alignment so that stress can be distributed more evenly.
The recovery rate from injuries for every one of us is different. As such, do not try to rush the healing process as it could adversely aggravate your conditions. By using the knee forcefully before full recovery can cause the knee to “wind up” with permanent damages.
Your running can only be resume if:
- There is no pain in the knee when it is bent or straightened
- If there is no pain when walking, sprinting, jumping, or walking
- If the injured knee feels as strong as it is before the injury
Preventing knee pain after running actually takes forethought more than afterthought like learning the appropriate techniques of warm ups or stretching before running. However, the first and most important thing even before you start running is investing in a pair of good running shoes. In fact, many people do not realize that a best-fitted running shoe for your foot can greatly reduces the risk of getting knee pain after running. Besides, avoid running on bad or uneven terrain such as concrete pathways as the resulting force is hurting the knee joint mechanism.
Any changes made in the running routine need to progress slowly to condition the knee joints instead of abrupt changes. If runner’s knee has occurred before, then you should wear a knee brace so reoccurrences will not be as likely to happen. The last thing to remember is if the knee hurts, STOP and never run through pain. If there is pain, there is something wrong.
Great Products For Relieving Knee Pain
- Aircast Large Knee Cryo/Cuff
Combines the therapeutic benefits of controlled compression with coldness to minimize hemarthrosis, swelling and pain. The cuff is anatomically designed to completely fit the knee providing maximum cryotherapy. Measured compression ensures patient comfort. Controlled cold eliminates the risk of tissue damage. Detachable cooler allows for uninterrupted treatment. Indicated for trauma, post-op and rehabilitation. Leg Circumference: 20″ – 31″.
- Sammons Preston Standard Leg Spacer