Are you training for a marathon? Have you experienced knee pain, hip pain, or lower back pain during your run that makes you dread every step?
Chances are you are like most other runners who are training for a marathon. Statistics show that up to 90% of those training for a marathon will experience injury!
Although research has pinpointed many risk factors for injury in running, one factor seems to stand out consistently...
The inability of the lumbar spine and lower extremity joints to adequately control that loads applied during the stance phase of running. Running places 2.5-5x your body weight on your joints compared to level walking. Imagine doubling your body weight and then going for even a 1 mile walk...not so easy!
At my running lab, Competitive EDGE Physical Therapy in San Jose, I often hear runners complain, "I just feel it in my knee on every step" or "It feels like I need more supportive shoes to help with the impact."
If you have found yourself saying the same things and are looking for actionable answers besides "just stop running" then read on...
Change Your Knee Angle Decrease Your Pain
There are multiple ways to decrease impact forces at the joints of the lower extremity and lower back. These include forefoot running, Chi running (leaning forward), increasing steps per minute to 175-180, and increasing knee flexion angle at initial contact.
Of these strategies the last two are much easier and faster to implement giving you QUICK relief of pain and pressure.
Luckily for you they go hand in hand. Let me explain...
Initial foot contact with knee flexion angle at 5 degrees In the above picture you see the left leg is at the point of contact with the treadmill. This is the beginning of stance in running and you are basically landing from a free fall. At this point in the running cycle, the straighter the leg the more impact forces are experienced at the bony joints of the leg and lower back.
Ideally, the knee flexion angle should be around 20 degrees to properly absorb the most shock without decreasing performance.
As your step rate decreases (less steps per minute) forces increase. Similarly, as your knee flexion angle lessens the force on your joints increases. So, if you increase your step rate you will shorten your stride which will increase your knee flexion angle.
Increasing your preferred step rate by as little as 5% can decrease the energy absorbed at the knee by approximately 20%, according to this study.
Knee flexion angle 20 degrees at initial contact
Run Softer With These Tips
If you want to feel less impact when you run, and you want to finish your marathon without being in agony at your joints then these key tips are for you...
1. Work on increasing your knee angle at first foot contact with the ground
2. Improve your step rate per minute to 175-200
3. Listen to your steps when you run and try to make the more quiet
4. Lean forward, slightly, to help bend your knee and hip
If you are looking for a way to LEARN how to run with improved knee flexion, step rate, and forward trunk lean...
Consult with your local physical therapist who specializes in treating and training runners, like I do at Competitive EDGE Physical Therapy in San Jose. Be sure to find someone with advanced knowledge and proper biofeedback equipment to help you learn these strategies FASTER.
I have helped runners just like you learn how to improve their running form to be able to run without pain. If you would like to speak with me personally for a phone consultation please call 408-784-7167.
Kevin Vandi DPT, OCS, CSCS
Physical therapist serving San Jose, Los Gatos, Campbell, Almaden