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FITNESS ZONE

How to Run Without Destroying Your Knees

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If you have knees that swell up just from walking past the running shoe section then you’ll be pleased to know you’re not alone.  Indeed, the suffering of others gives me an odd comfort I cannot explain, even when my knees scream for the sweet release of death.

Running is the fitness activity that probably draws more people into getting in shape than anything else.  More than Bowflex ads that imply men will be neutered vessels of soy without their device.  More than cross-fit dungeons.   And yes, even more than Tony Horton reeling us in like moths to a flame with his pterodactyl impressions.  Running is portrayed as the gold standard activity for all able-bodied men and women.

Which is why it kind of sucks when the knees seem to self destruct.

Once my kids got to a certain age, they liked to do short marathons.  Eventually this led to me and my son doing a cross-country 10k which I’m still recovering from.  Aside from tasting a slice of my mortality, there were some vital tips I picked up along the way that might help some of you would-be runners.

ROLL IT OUT

Probably the single greatest source of knee pain is ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome).  The tendon that runs up the outside leg from the knee to the hip is often tighter than an otter’s pocket.  While one can go to a massage therapist to iron out the gristle, it’s probably more practical from a time standpoint to do it yourself using a foam roller.

foam_knee
Roll slowly from the knee to hip.

Be careful at first, as first timers might feel an almost tear-inducing level of agony.  If you’ve had a desk job for 20 years then those IT-bands are going to be tiiiight.  Be faithful and try to give them attention every three days or so.  If the IT-bands are the culprit, then most knee pain will be greatly reduced within a couple weeks.

CHIROPRACTOR

A body that is out of alignment is going to naturally have a concentration of pressure in certain areas.  This often comes out with pain symptoms like hip or knee pain that is predominant on one side.  If that’s your story, I highly recommend making a trip to a reputable chiropractor to see if anything is amiss.

rambo1
It'll only hurt for a second...

Speaking from experience, adding a regular trip to the chiropractor has done miracles to my workout regimen.  My side pain is greatly reduced to being almost eliminated, and I indeed have a greater sense of wellness.  If you’ve never pursued this avenue of preventative maintenance, consider doing so.

TECHNIQUE

I can ramble all day long but if your running technique sucks then all the tricks in the world are not going to save your knees from inevitable self-destruction.  So before dropping $500 on a pair of running shoes made from freshly plucked archangel feathers, try getting some tips from a seasoned pro.

sillywalk
Some technique is decidedly worse than others.

Finding a local running club shouldn’t be too much trouble.  Often they operate out of a local community fitness center.  It that doesn’t work then drive around till you see a group of five or more running in a pack.  At that point you can either follow slowly behind them until you get their attention, or pull up next to a fit young lady and ask her to come over to your window.

mace1
AAARRGHHH!!! My eyes!!!

If you have almost no access to a trainer, there is a low-budget option.  Get someone to take a video of you running.  If possible, use the slow-motion feature.  Now compare your drunken-bear dance to videos of pros.  Pay attention to body posture and foot placement above all and see how you can incorporate these into fixing your stride.

AGONY OF DeFEET

There’s no denying that a high quality set of running footwear will make a significant impact on knee pain.  This means you’ll probably need to spend $100 or more to get something you’ll be satisfied with.   It also goes without saying that the odds of finding good stuff at Wal-Mart is pretty darn slim.  But even getting quality has some pitfalls.  All too often I have seen newcomers rush out and buy cross-trainers or tennis shoes.  The reason is that some consider a multi-purpose shoe a better use of money.  This is why you see fifty year old men buying groceries wearing white socks and sandals.

sandalssocks
AAARRGHHH!!! My eyes!!!

At the end of the day, you want dedicated footwear designed for running that do not get used for anything else.  The lifespan of a good set of runners really isn’t that long, so using them for common tasks is only going to expedite their way to the trash.

CONSIDER GENETICS

I know the prevailing thought is that you can be anything you want, but the fact is not every turtle makes it to the ocean, and not every kid is going to be an astronaut when they grow up.

college
Given the current state of higher education, I'll be surprised if society can wipe itself in ten years.

Same goes for the genetic lottery.  Some people come into this world with knees made of adamantium, and others papier mâché.  Most of us fall somewhere in the broad middle spectrum.

This doesn’t mean you cannot run, it just means some people have to take into account factors outside their control.  My family for example, has a history of knee cartilage that dissolves like wet cotton candy.  Knowing this, I have to pay more attention to form and proper footwear than most people lest the curse of the Parrot family prematurely land on yours truly.

John Paul Parrot ( aka. The Dysfunctional Parrot ) is a disgruntled Systems Analyst who wanders the Canadian wastelands saving small villages with the power of Kung Fu.  His chair is also a little too close to the twenty year old microwave.  As you can well imagine, this has had certain side effects.

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