Along with shin splints, bad knees are perhaps the biggest bugbears for most runners. Often knee injuries can end up completely halting a running career even, or if that doesn't happen they can end up taking all the joy out of physical exercise. And it should be fun.
But going for a run doesn't have to mean putting the health of your knees at risk. In fact, often these issues are simply a result of the incorrect technique or of muscular imbalances. And runners' knee in particular is usually avoidable if you know how to run correctly and develop your frame to support the best running form.
Running and Your Hips
One of the biggest causes of runners' knee is actually a weakness in the hips – usually in the hip adductors and abductors. These are the muscles that are responsible for bringing your legs together, or swinging them out to the side respectively.
Not only are these legs used to move your legs laterally though; but they are also used to prevent that kind of movement and to provide the stability we need in order to keep our legs straight. If they become weak – especially when we use them over long periods of time – our legs can then end up 'flailing' out to either side such that we have an awkwardly wide gait.
Moreover, this running technique will mean that our legs are often diagonally out to one side when they hit the floor, meaning that there is not a straight line from our feet, through to our knees and hips.
In turn, this then prevents our legs from being able to bend to absorb the full impact of our feet hitting the floor, and it also means that the pressure will be hitting out knees at an awkward sideways angle – a direction where they are weaker and not able to bend.
So what's the solution then? As you might have imagined, it revolves around improving the strength of your adductors and abductors, and in turn this means using the right exercises and stretches, but also not launching into your running too quickly and too intensively.
Our legs are designed naturally to let us run correctly and over time we will develop the strength we need in order to support the movement. If you launch yourself straight into a new running program running for hours a week though, then you won't give yourself time to improve your strength and you'll potentially get injured.
If you don't have the time or inclination to gradually increase your running and really have to take on a big challenge right away, then you can reduce your chance of injury still by taking the effort to strengthen your abductors and adductors as well as doing the running itself.
Finally, make sure that you are taking conscious note of your running form. That means watching your feet as they hit the ground for a bit in order to see whether your legs are completely straight. If you notice them veering out to one side, then you can try to keep them straighter as you run and over time this should become habit.