It was so painful that I would be right to the edge of the pain, right when I was ready to cry, and slow to a limp. I’d do a slight hop on my current good leg and then walk it out. Then it would be sore going down stairs or sitting for a long time or even squatting to pull laundry out of the dryer. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even go 1/4 of a mile. Sometimes it even hurt up into my hips.
Hello runner’s knee.
This was 8 years ago. At the time my husband was in grad school and rode a shuttle to work. Knowing my struggle with wanting to run, and being athletic and a runner himself, he had overheard a conversation on the shuttle that changed my life.
“A runner was talking to another girl. The girl wanted to run but complained of her knees hurting. The runner told her to get a foam roller and roll out her IT band.”
It seemed like such an simple thing. It is. And it works. You’ll find articles like this one that warn of solely foam rolling…but I’m telling you to do more than just that. You want to treat the symptom and the cause. The symptom is tightness in your legs, the cause is lack of movement and strength.
1st – Get a foam roller.
I got a foam roller and immediately began rolling on my IT band (connects your hip to your knee on the outside edge of your thigh…the actual name for this condition is IT band syndrome). Your knee pain could be from heal striking, your shoes (I currently run in Brooks pureconnect and love them), and other actual knee injuries, but I highly recommend trying this method first. Grab a foam roller on your next target, big 5, or amazon trip. It’s inexpensive and easily accessible.
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you purchase through those links. I have used the products listed (used similar jogging strollers) and recommend them because they are helpful and are companies that I trust.
2nd – Learn how to use it.
This is simpler than you think. Watch this movie (also below) of me to get the general idea. (see how I do not go over my knee joints…that’s not where the IT band goes and is painful)
I always do each side twice. The 2nd time around is never as painful as the first.
I’ve never timed my rolling. I roll each leg until I feel like I’ve concentrated on tight spots (usually about 5 inches up from my knee and right below my hip) and it feels like I’ve made a difference. You’ll get the hang of it. If you want an actual time, start with 3 minutes every time (for a total of 12 minutes). Go up or down from there. It’s a great tv watching activity.
And after you do this for a while, it doesn’t hurt at all or it feels like a good massage. Eventually I don’t feel the need to foam roll for months at a time. You will get there. When I began to run and foam roll together, it took months to gradually increase milage from my mere 1/4 mile. I’d roll in the morning, after a run, and before bed. I really wanted it to work and was willing to put in the time. Consistency is going to be important to make this work for you, too.
3rd – Expect some pain.
Fair warning here. This will be painful. Like hold your breath, cringe, and try not to cry kind of pain. But it’s in your control. It gets better and you know that doing it is actually working. You’re worth it.
4th – Strengthen.
(Watch my movie – above – to see these moves in action!) When I sit for a long time, my hips hurt and sometimes my knees. This makes sense because I’m not moving them, they are static. The same goes if you are beginning an exercise program, increasing milage, or are suddenly tight from not stretching appropriately. Your body which was static is suddenly being thrown into something new. You need to build it up. Strengthening those muscles around your IT Band (quads, hamstrings, glutes) will make your IT band not have to make up for your weakness. This will make your downhills less painful and your recovery more enjoyable.
Split Leg Lift with Weight: Work on keeping the back leg straight and in line with your back. The standing leg can be slightly bent. From this position, return to standing tall, hovering your swinging foot over the ground, then kick it back out again. I do 10-15 reps/leg for one set.
Side Leg Lifts: These are great for working your hip abductors. Lay on your side, tighten your leg muscles in both legs, and raise and lower the top one, alligator mouth style. I do 20/side as one set. (Other option for a deeper feel – angle your top leg back behind the leg on the floor, then lift in the same way.)
Wall Sit – Don’t let your knees go over your toes. Hold for a good leg burn. Shoot for 1 minute holds.
Jumping Squats – Squat and then explode out of it, pointing toes and tightening all leg muscles as you burst into the air. Return to a squat on the landing and repeat. I do 10 of these/set.
5th – Stretch.
I generally believe in stretching. Even better is having a regular yoga routine. However, if there’s one stretch that I love, it’s this first one. I do this at stoplights, when I’m feeling extra tight in the middle of a run, or randomly standing while I hang out with friends. It feels good and hits just the right spots.
Side Leaning Stretch: (THIS IS MY FAVORITE ONE!) Plant a foot, cross your other foot in front, lean to the same side of the leg you crossed. You should feel the stretch on the outside of the back leg.
Squatted Cross-leg Stretch: Plant a foot, bend that knee, cross your other leg on top of the standing knee, and sit into the stretch. You should feel it in the crossed leg.
Windmill Stretch: Plant one foot forward and face forward. Plant your other food behind, angled out. Fold forward over the front foot, then twist to the side of the front leg. Plant your opposite hand on the ground and reach up with the other hand. You should feel this in the front leg. To make it more intense, when you’re leaning, don’t let your hips move forward, push them back in the stretch (like towards the back wall).
6th – Be patient.
Becoming a runner is a thing of patience and consistency with your body and with your mind. Short-term gain can be long-term loss. Some days will be great and others days you’ll be frustrated. Love yourself and accept where you’re at every day.
One day you’ll have to stop running because you’re tired, not because your knees hurt. It will be a great day!
To date I have run 3 half marathons with more to come. I run without knee pain and enjoy the work, air, and community of runners. There’s something cool about running past other people, giving the slight head nod, hand wave, “hello”, or “good morning.” I have run past moms with strollers cheering “mom’s rock!” I’ve stopped on corners and talked to strangers about how long our runs are for the day, leaving with an encouraging air of positivity. I’ve also been the one cheered on by strangers telling me to “keep it up” and “doing good.” I needed those words at those moments.
I want you to have this positivity too. I want you to feel strong and be able to work hard like you want to. You can because now you know. Go out and be great, be kind, and be powerful.
Get a foam roller
Strengthen & Stretch
Patience & Consistency
And watch my movie!