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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Running Posture and Knee Pain

I've chronicled my battle with knee pain over the past few months and just this past Saturday I declared that my pain was finally dissipating. Mysterious? Maybe. Maybe Not.  I managed to get rid of my knee pain, Patello Femoral Syndrome aka Runner's Knee, by becoming more aware of my running posture.

I've been slowly trying to land more on my midfoot when striking the ground, and I've successfully made that transition, removing any achilles/plantar fascia pain I had, but I still found that I often times would find my knees in pain after a 10km run, especially in the latter half.  Well, after a stellar 1km repeat workout last week, I think everything finally fell into place. So what's my magic secret?

Midfoot landing and proper posture will cure your knee pain! It cured mine!

So, I don't think I need to go over how to incorporate midfoot landing into your running stride, there are plenty of discussions on this online. What I found to be lacking was information on changing your stride for knee pain. The issue is, that you don't technically or consciously want to make changes to your stride. That's where I went wrong, time and time again. I would try and adjust my extension, my stride length, my cadence, but no matter what it would not get rid of all my knee pain, and I would typically strain another part of my stride (heel, plantar fascia, calves, etc).  What I was doing was slowly integrating a midfoot strike into my stride, and that is beneficial for entirely different reasons, but it wasn't the whole ticket I needed to rid me of knee pain.

So, what is Running Posture? First off, it's a term I just made up, so take the designation with a grain of salt, but in the end, it involves positioning your core so that your legs are best positioned to land properly. Landing properly involves many things, but for one thing, you want your foot to land midfoot (NO HEEL STRIKING!) and for your foot to land roughly beneath your knee. This is hard to visualize and to incorporate, but here's how I finally cracked the case.

I found that during my longer runs I would always start to get knee pain after 6km and it would last till 1 km before I was done. So from 0-6 and from Y-1 to Y (Y being the total km), I was completely pain free. But why? How does make any sense?  So I figured it had to do with my entire stride mechanics, but I just didn't know what exactly. Until my practice last week.

I had begun to notice a trend: My knees didn't hurt when I ran faster than my easy run pace. Somewhere under 4:20 would normally take care of any pain. That signaled to me that it was definitely something in my stride, and not just the fact I'm slowly getting old and may have bad knees. As I mentioned above, switching to a midfoot strike has helped, but it wasn't the whole ticket.  It turns out that when I run faster I engage my core in a manner that shifts my hips forward slightly, forcing my knees to come up and out a little further (comparatively) and force my foot to land midfoot more naturally, beneath my knee.

What a revelation this has turned out to be for me, and who knows, maybe you can take a thought or two away today and take care of any knee pain you may have too. I'm still working hard at ingraining this posture change into my running, its forcing me to become very active in my core instead of just letting it sag along with my arms and legs.  What's more, this has actually made me considerably faster when running. I just don't get as tired anymore as my posture and natural stride have become more efficient.

Here are some tips I use when running to help with my posture:

  • Imagine you are reaching for the sky with your chest. If you don't you'll start to sag and you will essentially mimic a mild sitting position. At least that is how I visualize it.
  • Start by pushing your hips forward so that they are parallel with your shoulders. This should feel a little awkward, as you'll be running fully straight. Once you've done this, tilt your chest slightly forward. Ever so slightly. Enough so that you aren't fully straight up anymore, but remain rigid and engage your core (back, abs, chest) to help you keep your boat (butt) afloat.
  • Check every few minutes, mentally, to see if you've let your core sag. If so, just re-engage. I'm finding that I have to do this, but already it's becoming much easier. Don't wait till knee pain returns for you to engage, do it ALL THE TIME!

Let me know your thoughts on what I've discovered and if you decide to try any of my ideas out, be sure to let me know. Use them at your own risk.

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