Posted April 3rd, 2019

Running a marathon is something everyone should do at least once in their life. If you enjoy jogging, it demonstrates a high level of ability and endurance. For those who are trying to improve their general fitness, the training regime provides long-term structure and an end goal for motivation. However, a frequent complaint amongst marathon runners is knee pain – commonly referred to as ‘runner’s knee’. Today’s blog will explain the cause of this and how you can avoid damaging your body.

What causes runner’s knee?
The knees support the body’s weight whenever we stand, walk or run. While our weight doesn’t change during these activities, the force we put on our knees does. Running is a high-stress activity because we push down our weight with a force that 4-8 times higher than a low-intensity walk. A common misconception is that, over time, this erodes the cartilage leading to bone-on-bone friction and resulting pain. However, running alone is not enough to cause such damage.

The true cause of runner’s knee is when a trauma is sustained and then a person runs on the injured joint. This can permanently damage the cartilage and lead to lifelong problems. Thus, it is not jogging that is the issue, it is the persistent training which worsens an existing condition or creates a new problem altogether. Luckily for anyone who wants to run a marathon, this means that runner’s knee is preventable.

What causes trauma?
Trauma refers to any stress sustained by the body. Quite obviously, it includes falls and injury, but it also includes the pressure you put yourself under during a heavy training session. One of the most prevalent sources of trauma in athletes (and aspiring athletes!) is overtraining. Marathon runners are at a particular risk of this because the sport is all about repetition to build endurance.

One of the major problems is that minor trauma often doesn’t cause much pain or hamper movement, so runners wrongly believe that they can continue training as normal and even that doing so will ‘loosen out’ the joint to relieve the pain. However, putting strain on an already injured area compounds the injury and heightens the risk of developing a permanent condition.

Runner’s knee is preventable. To begin with, you ought to minimise your chance of sustaining trauma; this applies to the entire body as an injury to, for example, your foot can change the way you distribute your weight, leading to undue stress on the knee joint. Simple measures such as wearing correctly fitting and supportive footwear can go a long way. It’s also worth opting to train inside on a treadmill, as this incurs less risk than training outside on rough and uneven terrain.

Remember that recovery periods between intense sessions are important because they allow your body to repair itself, which leads to the building of strength and endurance. So, while skipping rest day may seem like the quickest way to increase your fitness, it’s actually counterproductive. You could say that training for a marathon is in itself a marathon, not a sprint!

Listen to your body
Overall, the most important thing to remember is to listen to your body. Niggles, twinges, stiffness, soreness…they’re all signs that you need to break. Heeding this and taking time off may mean the difference between putting your trainers away for a short while or hanging them up forever.