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How to be a Runner and Cope with Bad Knees

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by Lisa Gulak (subscribe)
Traveller, physical fitness enthusiast, and freelance writer living in the beautiful country of Canada.
Published April 13th 2013
When a relationship goes bad
Ah, spring! The arrival of warmer weather to the Northern Hemisphere means brainstorming fun and exciting ways to be outside. It also marks the end of a long winter season running inside around a track and feeling like a hamster. While many people are busy planning their races for the year, those of us injury plagued runners cross our fingers that familiar aches and pains will stay on the sidelines.

Last year, I got the wonderful and ambitious idea to run a marathon. With much fanfare and cheering, I proudly sent in my entry for the 2012 Ottawa Marathon and looked forward to a season of training. I had twinges of runner's knee in the past, but felt that my training schedule and coach would see me through to the finish line. The goal of the marathon was important to me as, like many, I suffered through PE class in school and am now physically fit because of hard work and dedication.

Disaster struck early in training. I had a dismal performance in the Hypothermic Half Marathon in February 2012, which left me in serious pain after the race and hardly able to walk or bend my left leg. Seeking medical advice was necessary. Naturally, my first consultation was with my favourite doctor - Dr. Google. Google provides a plethora of ways to scare oneself when looking up medical information. One thing I learned was that the knee is one of the most amazing and complex joints in the body. That said, there are a host of things that can go wrong with it from arthritis to ligament tears, tendon issues and many more.

I decided to consult with a physiotherapist to see what the problem was and if further consultation with a sports medicine doctor was necessary. After being painfully pulled and stretched and poked, a knee problem was determined with a general diagnosis of patellofemoral pain syndrome. I was put back on the path to good health with a stretching program, some new exercises to add to my regular weight training routine, taping, and a foam roller.

Photo credit: Lisa Gulak


Sadly, I had to withdraw from the marathon as I recovered from my injury. The recovery period and re-building gave some perspective on how to incorporate a not so perfect running body into a fitness program.

Some lessons I learned about having bad knees:
1. Always seek a professional diagnosis. While Google is fun and scary, a professional can tell what is really wrong and how to fix it.

2. Incorporate a wide range of activities into your fitness plan. One of the best ways to combat a knee injury is to make sure that the rest of the leg muscles are strong. A fitness plan should be balanced between strength training and cardiovascular fitness. There are so many ways to be active - don't limit yourself.

3. Stay positive. It was very disappointing to withdraw from the marathon, but maintaining a positive attitude was essential for recovery. Believe that you will get better.

4. Trail running. Pounding the pavement makes for sore knees. Getting off road is easier on the legs. Plus, there are mental health benefits to running in the wild.

5. Tape and foam rollers. Tape or braces provide extra support. KT Tape can be found in most sports supply stores. Utilise a foam roller before or after a workout to stretch out the IT band and muscles.

Foam roller - a runner's best friend. Photo credit: Lisa Gulak


6. Love and respect your knees. Our knees are powerful workhorse joints allowing us to run and jump. Show them respect by not overdoing it, following a proper fitness plan, and listening to your health professional.

While not a perfect relationship, my knees and I have come to an understanding of sorts. After all, we really do kneed each other (pun intended).

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