We’ve all been told by concerned family members and friends that running will ruin our knees and that we will struggle with problems if we run too often.
Is that true though? There are runners all over the world, running regularly so do they all have knee problems? Should running come with a warning?
The honest answer is, that no, running regularly does not appear to damage your knees in the long term. There are obviously going to be niggles and injuries occasionally including runner’s knee, but there is plenty you can do to make sure you get the most use out of your knees and keep them as fresh and injury-free as possible.
There have been long-term studies that show that running is perfectly fine for your knees as long as you do not engage in an intensive running program if you are severely overweight. These studies also showed that most runners are less likely to develop knee pain or have arthritis in their knees than those with a sedentary lifestyle.
We understand that you may be concerned about the possible negative effects of running for you personally. If this is the case, please consult a physio or your doctor before you start a structured training programme.
What is runner’s knee?
Runner’s knee is the term used to describe the pain that some runners experience after running. Occurring behind the kneecap, the pain can range from a mild to severe ache. Running puts a lot of pressure on the knee joint with each foot-strike resulting in a force of up to 4x your bodyweight.
That sounds scary. But, as with any injury, there are plenty of things that you can do to prevent runner’s knee before it becomes a problem which we will discuss later in the article.
Runner’s knee can occur because of an imbalance in the muscles which support the healthy function of your knee joint. The key muscles include your quadriceps and hamstrings which perform important functions to ensure that your knee functions well, and is well protected when you run.
I’ve got knee pain – should I stop running?
If you are carrying an injury, it is natural to feel nervous about whether you should continue with your training plan. Whether you should stop is a decision that only you can take along with your physio, doctor or sports masseuse.
As a general rule, if you experience a little discomfort that can be managed with a combination of icing, yoga, stretching and strength training, there is no reason why you can’t carry on training. However, only you can intuitively know your own body and it’s important to watch out for key signals like sharp, shooting pains or an intensifying ache, which are your body’s way of telling you to stop and seek help.
Whatever you do, we don’t recommend simply hoping that the pain will go away. If your knee, or any other body part, hurts, you should take active steps to aide your recovery.
Should I wear a knee support when running?
If you have read this far, you likely have runner’s knee or have an underlying condition which makes you prone to knee pain. As a rule, we do not recommend wearing knee supports for runners who are not injured as they can restrict movement and are unnecessary for most people.
However, if you are recovering from a knee injury and you have been advised to wear a knee support by a trained physician, we recommend doing so. Combined with supplementary strength training, wearing a knee support when running ensures that you don’t further aggravate an underlying injury.
Using kinesiology tape, KT tape for short, can provide you with additional support in a less restrictive form than a knee support or brace, but it is important to know how to use KT tape so that it is maximally effective. A quick guide as to how to use KT tape for runner’s knee can be found here.
Preventing Runner’s Knee
Prevention is always better than cure and building strength in your knee joint and the surrounding muscles is no different. There are a number of different factors that can contribute to runner’s knee but you can certainly give yourself a fighting chance of avoiding it with some key principles.
Do lunges and squats help?
Lunges and squats focus on some of the key muscles that are used to stabilise the knee joint and ensure that you can run pain-free. They are a great exercise when used as part of a strength training programme which is intended to improve range of motion and stability. Once you have mastered basic lunges and squats, adding variations such as weighted lunges, Bulgarian squats and wall squats can further improve your strength and stability.
It is important to build up any strength training programme gradually and we’d recommend consulting a Personal Trainer if you are recovering from a recent injury. It is also worth noting that the types of exercises that you need will vary depending on the cause of your knee pain – there is no one size fits all approach. And remember, always train within your capabilities and give your body time to adapt between workouts.
Stretching and Yoga
Before you head out on a run, we recommend doing a thorough warm up to prepare your body for the workout ahead. Dynamic stretching can be performed as part of that routine to minimise your risk of injury whilst out running. Standing quad stretches, calf stretches and hamstring stretches will all help to improve your strength and flexibility, helping to prevent runner’s knee and further damage to your knee joints.
Having healthy knees is about more than just how strong your muscles are. You need to keep your body well conditioned and we would recommend taking up yoga for any aspiring runners out there. Performing yoga such as these structured workouts optimised for runners can help you stay injury free and improve balance and coordination, in turn making you a stronger runner.
If the worst comes to it and your knees begin to feel sore, walking is a lower-impact cardio workout that can have a wide range of health benefits. Walking puts less pressure on your joints and is therefore a better option if you are prone to impact injuries including runners knee. It can also keep you from going stir-crazy if your doctor or physio recommends a spell of rest from running if you are recovering from injury.
Does compression help runners knee?
A compression sleeve is a useful aid if your level of pain is minimal and you still want to get out for a run or walk. Compression sleeves help support your knee by reducing any swelling around the knee joint and supporting a healthy range of motion. This can be an ideal fix if you are keen to continue with your training plan.
If you are keen to wear a compression support for your knee, it is important to make sure that it isn’t too tight as this will restrict movement. Making sure that your compression support is well adjusted is crucial before you set out for a run.
Which knee brace/support is best for running?
Consult your physician before choosing a knee support to make sure that the one that you choose is right for you and offers the level of support that you need.
Knee supports are available on Amazon for as little as £5.99. However, the best rated knee support at the time of writing is the Neo-G knee support which is fully adjustable to suit your needs. The support is currently available for just £15.99 making it an affordable solution for all budgets.
At the more expensive end of the market, there is the Neo-G hinged knee brace which provides more comprehensive support than the cheaper option in the range.
Additionally, a range of knee straps and compression sleeves are available depending on your specific needs. Speaking with your physio or doctor should give you a clear indication of which level of support is right for you and we’d always recommend checking out the reviews of the product that you purchase to ensure quality before hitting ‘Buy’!
Ultimately, knee supports and braces are great to aid you during your recovery from injury but is important to take a well-rounded approach to ensure that you strengthen your knee joints and surrounding muscles to repair your injury and strengthen any underlying weaknesses which may have caused the injury in the first place.