How to Protect Your Knees as a Runner

by Jim Richardson | Last Updated: April 28, 2020

Runners come in many different shapes and forms. Some runners have been hitting the payment since they started running track in high school, while others only run every now and then to lose a few pounds. Whether you run early in the morning or in the evenings after work, it is essential to understand how to keep your body healthy and strong.

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Sixty-five percent of runners will be injured in any year, according to a 2010 study at the University of South Florida. Other sources as reported in the NY Times say this percentage can go up to 80 percent in American runners. Additionally, an article in Runner’s World, states that 30 to 50 percent of a runner’s injuries include the knees and their surrounding tissues. However, it takes more than a good pair of running shoes to protect your knees from injury. 

Protect Your Feet, Protect Your Knees

Expensive sneakers may look good, but they won’t do much to protect you from injury. No matter the cost, you must make sure that you are wearing the right shoes. Before committing to a specific sneaker, a trip to the doctor might save you time and further pain. A runner needs to find a sneaker that fits properly. Whether you have a narrow or wide foot, your running shoes should feel comfortable and their insoles should be strong and not bendable. Depending on your foot, your doctor may suggest buying new inserts and insoles to offer better overall support. 

Fueling Your Body

Everyone should fuel their body with nutrients daily. Eating right allows you to maintain a healthy life. If you are a runner, you should discuss your meals with your doctor or a nutritionist to see if you are consuming the right amount of calcium and other nutrients needed. Runners are often recommended to load up on green vegetables and dairy to reach up to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. However, the daily intake of calcium will vary with each runner, depending on a series of factors such as gender, weight and age. In addition to vitamin C, doctors recommend that runners take glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements, two vitamins that help the cartilage in the knee with formation, repairing and maintaining elasticity. 

Exercise the Right Way

Running has many benefits, especially for your cardiovascular health. However, you need to do more physical activity to ensure that your body will allow you to continue to jog and run with ease. While it is essential to stretch before and after any exercise, runners should even stretch on non-running days. Not only it is a great way to keep your blood flowing, stretching can help runners prevent foot cramping, knee and hip injuries and shin splints. Two popular stretches that are recommended for runners are ITB (Iliotibial Band) Stretch and the Quadriceps Stretcher. The IT band attaches to the knee and helps stabilize and allow the joint to move. However, when this ligament becomes tightened or inflamed, the Iliotibial Band Syndrome occurs–the most common injury among runners. The ITB stretch help prevents such an injury. To perform, stand with one leg covered over the other leg. Then, bend your body in the same direction as your front leg. Breathe, hold for 20 seconds and then repeat the same action. This stretch works best when performed 10 consecutive times for each leg. To perform the Quadriceps Strengthener, place both feet next to each other, stretch both arms in from of you, and lower your body into a half-squat, while keeping your back straight. This is best performed for a count of 20. Additionally, runners should include variety in their workouts, including exercises that strengthen their hips, thighs and buttocks.

Check Your Ego 

For runners who wake up and think about the empty city sidewalk, dirt road, beach or track that they are about to hit, it is important that they monitor their running activities. Runners often get overzealous about running during the first semi-warm day of the year and end up with minor knee injuries that appear later during the season. Your mind may be ecstatic, but your body may not be ready. The same thing applies to a new runner. Committing yourself to a 3-mile run when you haven’t even successfully completed a half-mile run may be a bad idea for your health. Start slow, then let yourself catch up to your goals over a couple of weeks by gradually increasing your mileage by 10 percent every week. Allow your body time to catch up with your enthusiasm. 

Day Off

While you may love running more than breathing, your knees need a break too. Many runners think a day off is same as a cheat day for diets. However, that could not be further from the truth. A day off isn’t designed for you to enjoy some time off the track. It’s time for your body to recuperate and regain strength to continue to push itself during runs. When runners disregard the practice of having at least two days off, they end up having longer breaks due to injury, specifically damaged knees from poor habits. Overtraining can be as unhealthy as not training at all.

Be Proactive with Managing Minor Pain 

If you experience slight pain in your knee, it is best to have it checked it out by a professional as soon as you notice a change. Small injuries can lead to serious ones, if untreated or treated at a later time. If your doctor’s appointment is a few days away, be proactive in managing your pain. Wrap the knee with an elastic tape, ice your knee several times a day and keep it elevated at often as possible. Limit your walking to only necessary activities; avoid climbing long staircases or performing exercises that include strain on your knees. Reduce inflammation by consuming glucosamine supplements and do light stretches to regain strength. After consulting with your doctor, try brisk walking until you are healed enough to run. Pace yourself until you are back to your normal duration and speed.

Run, and there’s a good chance that you will run yourself into an injury if you are not careful. Many injuries are caused by overuse and negligence. Taking care of your body isn’t about implementing a consistent running schedule. It is about living a lifestyle that prioritizes your overall health through daily actions, including nutrition, exercise habits and knowing how to react to what your body needs. 

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