Adding running to your wellness résumé can result in plenty of health perks. Not only does hitting the pavement play a role in lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but it also releases neurochemicals in your brain that boost your mood and increase your self-confidence, among other things. Unfortunately, sometimes all that running can come at a cost and cause your knees to hurt. Good news, though: The pain doesn’t have to keep you from lacing up those sneakers for good.
Runner’s knee—or, in more scientific terms, chondromalacia patella—occurs when the cartilage under the kneecap is damaged. It’s one of the most common injuries runners face due to that cartilage being a natural shock absorber, and according to Becs Gentry, a Peloton Tread instructor and Nike Run ambassador, there are a few different reasons those symptoms—AKA kneecap pain, swelling, or feelings of popping or grinding—ever even surface in the first place. “You might experience runner’s knee from increasing your mileage too soon, since going from zero miles to countless miles in a short timespan can cause pain and aggravation to the body,” she tells me. “It could also be due to having poor running technique.”
Other common knee-pain-causing issues Gentry sees come from eating a poor diet that builds up toxins and can contribute to inflammation, wearing shoes that don’t provide enough support, and not having enough recovery time. “It’s important to allow the body to rest, adapt, and recover prior to the next run,” she says. “Massage and Epsom salt baths are a something I always suggest when runners have muscular soreness, as they can both help reduce the recovery time and soothe the body.”
While getting rid of the pain is great, there are also some ways to prevent your knees from hurting in the first place. Before your next run, use Gentry’s top tips to ensure your sweat seshes are no pain, all gain.
Here are 4 ways to prevent running from hurting your knees.
1. Train with a running coach
People think running is one of those things you just go out and do, but learning how to run correctly from the get-go can help keep your knees healthy for years to come. “If you’re unsure about correct running technique, find a coach who can help you analyze your running style and work with you to make it stronger,” Gentry says.
2. Invest in a good pair of running shoes and socks
You wouldn’t show up to swim practice without a quality bathing suit, right? Well, the same goes for running: You need trustworthy gear to get the job done. “The technology in sneakers today is very advanced, and most running shoes are designed to assist the human body, so it’s a great idea to head to a running store for a gait analysis,” Gentry says. “In most cases, they’ll be able to show you shoes that suit your natural running style. Definitely remember to wear shoes that are comfortable, though.”
3. Keep a training diary
To make sure you’re not overdoing things—especially in the beginning of your running journey—take the time to keep track of your sessions. “Starting a training diary will help you clearly see and outline which days you dedicate to running, training, and to recovery,” Gentry says. “This way, you’ll be able to balance yourself out and not do too much, too soon.”
4. Build your muscle strength
Adding some strength-training into the mix as well can do wonders for protecting your body—and turning you into a better runner. “Building your muscular strength is so important. Around every joint, there are muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Runners need to ensure that their whole body is looked after and strengthened for running, given the impact it has on the body,” Gentry says. “Using bodyweight or weighted exercises and focusing on single leg strength—as well as double leg strength—will help build your power and hopefully keep injuries at bay.”
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