Knee pain is one of the most common injuries and complaints in endurance athletes. It is also one of the most commonly stated reasons why running is bad for you because “It will destroy your knees.” The knee joint is a fairly simple joint in its general purpose. It flexes and extends with small amounts of rotation. Common points of pain for endurance athletes are in the front or side of the knee. Knee injuries in endurance athletes are often due to 3 types of deficits. A strength deficit, a mobility deficit, or a mechanics deficit. In this article we will tackle how to improve these deficits.
When we think about strength and preventing knee pain we have to go above the joint. Endurance athletes are notoriously weak in the hips. We can run, cycle, ski and swim for a long time but if we are asked to perform a squat with any kind of weight, we often fail. The muscles in our hips generate power in many of the movements. These muscles are essential for stabilizing the pelvis and preventing abnormal joint forces in the body. A great way to keep the knees healthy is by working on gaining strength in the hips. Incorporating Strength movements focused on stability and power is one of the best ways to prevent injury and often one of the go to methods for decreasing knee pain. For additional information regarding this, check out our 16-Week Strength E-Book
Next, addressing the mobility side of things. Endurance athletes are tight in most muscles of the body. We often pride ourselves on our stiffness after a long run or ride. However, stiffness in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles can be a culprit of developing knee pain. All 3 of these muscles cross the knee and are important movers of this joint. Keeping them mobile will help prevent movement compensations and poor form in your selected sport. Foam rolling and stretching are a great place to start. Adding in these movements on a consistent basis into your training plan can help you recover faster and prevent knee pain in future workouts.
Finally, the mechanics deficit. When talking about mechanics we will focus on running for the purpose of this article but it can be applied to any form of movement or exercise. Improper running form is a common issue that can cause knee pain. Everyone has a different running pattern regarding stride length, foot strike, etc. However, if the mechanics of your running pattern are not suitable for your tissue, injury can happen. Changing some simple mechanics to your running pattern such as cadence and trunk position can decrease that tissue stress and prevent injury. Video recording yourself while running may also be a helpful way to see what your gait looks like as it is often difficult to feel in the moment.
Knee pain is a very common but preventable issue in endurance athletes. Recent research suggests that running is a great way to prevent pathologies of the knee joint such as osteoarthritis. Our bodies need movement in order to stay strong and healthy. As Coach Mike says, “Motion is lotion”. In order to keep those joints moving we often have to work on the little things to stay consistent over the years. So get in the gym, hit the foam roller after your workout, and take a look at how you are moving. Your knees will thank you.