With gyms closed down or operating at limited capacity, many people are turning to outdoor running to stay fit and healthy. From improving cardiovascular fitness to supporting stronger bones, running provides many health benefits. While the advantages of running are due to its high-impact nature, these exercises can put undue stress on the joints if not performed properly.
And it’s for this reason that many runners experience knee pain while running. Does this mean you should stop running to avoid joint pain? No! Runners have less knee pain and stiffness compared to non-runners. With proper running form and techniques, you can enjoy the health benefits of high-impact and high-intensity workouts while minimizing joint discomfort.
Follow these six tips to avoid knee pain while running:
1. Warm Up Before Every Run
Most runners know the importance of pre-run warm-ups, but don’t bother to perform them. When you’re sitting, your knee muscles shorten and contract. But when running, these muscles stretch and expand. If the shift from sitting to running happens without preparation, your muscles won’t be able to handle the sudden stress, which can lead to knee pain and injury.
Before you go out for a run, do some dynamic stretches for 15 minutes to loosen up your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles. This technique allows your knee muscles to be slowly stretched over time, gradually preparing them for increased activity. Some of the best stretches to do before a run include side lunges, bent knee leg swings, and squat to stand.
2. Get the Right Running Shoes
As we discussed above, running is a high-impact exercise that puts a lot of stress on your weight-bearing joints. When you run, the momentum generates a force that is five times your body weight. Every time your foot strikes the ground, your ankles, knees, and hips have to absorb this massive force. This shock is responsible for giving people knee pain during running.
Quality running shoes can absorb some of this shock to make your workouts a more enjoyable experience. The best running shoes have thick heels and cushions to lessen the impact of every landing. And no matter how much money you spend, keep in mind that running shoes don’t last forever. Running shoes should be replaced after every 500 miles to help you reduce joint pain.
3. Wear Knee Support
If you lack hip strength, have knee injuries, or suffer from conditions such as arthritis, the force generated by running can hurt your knees. This should not give you an excuse to avoid exercising though, as inactivity weakens the muscles, joints, and bones, further worsening your condition. Fortunately, there are solutions that can lessen the impact of running on the knees.
Supportive wear such as orthopedic knee braces add compression on your joints, which helps reduce pressure, swelling, and pain in and around your knees. Studies have found knee braces to be very effective for relieving joint pain during exercising. Many high-quality braces also provide a gentle knee massage which disrupts your body’s pain signaling. With fewer pain signals sent to the brain, these knee braces can help you minimize discomfort while running.
4. Stay Hydrated
Along with being a high-impact workout, running is also a high-intensity exercise. These activities increase breathing and sweating, which accelerates fluid loss from the body. Water loss reduces the volume of synovial fluid that cushions your joints and provides shock absorption. This exacerbates the impact of running on the joints, which can result in knee pain.
The importance of nutrition and staying hydrated during a run cannot be overstated. Drinking sufficient water is crucial to increase muscle flexibility and improve joint function. So how much water do you need to maintain supple muscles and joints? Drink three glasses of water two hours before a run, and then consume 16 ounces of fluids every 15 minutes while running.
5. Don’t Run on Hard Surfaces
The surface you run on plays an important role in determining whether you have a pleasant or painful running experience. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to run on hard surfaces like concrete or sidewalks. Cement and concrete don’t absorb the impact forces of running. Your joints must absorb massive amounts of shock with every foot strike, leading to knee discomfort.
To avoid knee pain while running, run on soft surfaces like grass, dirt, and gravel. Soft surfaces can absorb up to 16 percent of the impact energy produced from running. This helps reduce pressure on your joints, leading to more comfortable running workouts. Running on soft surfaces also makes the leg muscles work harder, thereby helping strengthen your legs.
6. Practice Proper Running Form
If your knees hurt when you run, it could be because you’re not practicing proper running form. When body parts are used improperly during a run, you add more strain to your joints, which can result in pain and injuries. A study published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise revealed that leaning forward slightly during a run can relieve pressure off your knees.
Here are more tips to help you run properly:
- Don’t overstride and step past your knees; let your feet land beneath instead of in front of you
- Don’t lift your knees when you run; let your knees swing low
- Don’t straighten your knees while running; keep your knees soft and bent
Practice These Tips to Run Pain-Free
Humans are born to run. Running is one of the best exercises you can perform to live a longer, healthier life. Although outdoor runs have plenty of physical and mental health benefits, the high-impact nature of running can exert a lot of stress on your joints. Use the tips above to take advantage of running without hurting your knees.