I have had some major issues with my knees, and there’s no specific reason for it. A natural dose of a pretty active lifestyle + days in uncomfortable heels + thick legs + 30-something years of life = some sketchy ass knees. And even if they give me a break during the normal course of the day, it’s almost a sure bet that my knees hurt when I run.
It’s made me take several breaks from distance running and has made me dread the day that I have to walk with a weird limp or a cane. (I also tend to be a bit of a fatalist.) However, I recently did something awesome that gives me a hope, and although it’s just the beginning, I’m super optimistic that it’s going to work wonders.
I’ve never considered myself a candidate for PT. I played a couple of team sports as a kid, but nothing serious enough for me to have a professional perform a detailed analysis. However, I recently signed up for the Monterrey Spartan Race and I have about 10 weeks to whip myself into shape for this thing. To get ready, I plan to follow an 8-week training plan that I found online and this thing honestly has me freaking out! Lots of running, jumping, sprinting – everything to potentially slaughter my knees and lead to some type of injury if I’m not careful.
I figured if I want to get through this thing without the assistance of a stretcher, I MUST get my form together and I needed to get some assistance from a professional.
Finding myself a running-focused physical therapist
I Googled something like “running assessment San Jose” and high up in the results came a place called Competitive Edge PT. (By the way, note that this post is in no way an endorsement for anything.) This place is owned by a guy named Kevin, who is a physical therapist with a focus on injury-prevention for runners. He has a ton of fancy equipment that’s focused on helping runners improve their form. Perfect.
The assessment gave me tons of data about my knees
When I arrived, he asked about my injuries and goals. I honestly couldn’t remember the specifics of which knee was giving me pain or the specific location of the pain since I wasn’t in pain at that time (note to self: when you have pain, write it down), but I told him what I knew.
All strapped up in my gear!
Then came the assessment. He strapped on some sensors to my back, mid-section, legs, and feet as these are the areas that are measured during the Gait Analysis. I then hopped on a treadmill, which was filmed by cameras at different angles. The analysis takes measurements through the sensors as well as the cameras. I then ran for about 3 minutes at about a 6 mile/hour pace, which is about my running pace. Real talk, all 3 of those minutes wore me out! We did this twice to be sure we had good numbers, and viewed the results.
Here’s a snapshot:
The cameras take a bunch of shots per second so we were able to look at still frames during each part of my run, which was super helpful. Then, the geeky graph data on the right gives the metrics to describe what’s happening. To be honest, I don’t completely understand the data, but bottom line is that quite a few areas are measured – including lumbar (back) flexion, hip rotation, and knee flexion. One of the takeaways for me is that I’m not bending my back enough when I strike my left foot in front of me, which is also causing me not to bend my knee enough. Obviously, all of this sounds bad and is a major reason for why my knees hurt when I run.
Another really interesting view was a video:
The skeleton guy in the bottom left video is a great (though painful) visual of how I’m jacking up my knees even more. Basically, my knees (especially the left) are going inward and are super wobbly during my stride. More evidence of how I need to improve my stride in order to stop hurting my knees.
But wait…it’s actually not my knees that are the problem
The pain in my knees happen to be a symptom of a separate issue and a major takeaway of the assessment: I have weak glutes. Seriously, a weak ass? All of this junk in the trunk and it’s not doing a thing back there?! I previously wrote a post on how to strengthen your glutes and clearly I need to revisit it myself. Kevin also prescribed me a series of exercises that he wants me to do over the next week that targets my glutes. It’s about 12 minutes of exercises. We did them during the session and it kind of killed me.
Using a resistance band, I did 4 static exercises (held each pose for a minute) that target my glutes. The fourth was a squat. In a future post I’ll go into more detail on how each exercise is performed.
I can also fix the problem by increasing my running steps
He then had me run on the treadmill for about 10 minutes at a slightly slower pace, and this time he displayed my strike force (or how hard I’m stepping) on a screen. He pointed out that if I take more steps per minute, that I would step lighter. I’ve been running at about 163 steps per second, and I should be between 170 and 180. I happen to know of a really cool app called Trailmix where you can set your music to a specific pace. Spotify does this too. So I’ll start using that during my workouts to be sure I’m getting enough steps per minute.
It will cost me but it’s sooo worth the money
The total assessment was 2 hours long and costs $375. I’ll also take 8 additional sessions (1 per week) and these will be $130. Not the cheapest thing in the world, but it depends on how you look at it. Any type of knee surgery will cost way more and would obviously suck. The price of using your legs is basically priceless. And it sucks to be in pain. So when you look at it this way, it’s a deal. Plus, my insurance covers 70% of these costs and I can use my Health Savings Account to cover the other 30% tax-free. So, I’m looking at about $425 to potentially cure myself of all of my knee problems. Not bad at all.
So in summary, the answer to why my knees hurt when I run…
- My back does not have enough bend, particularly when my left foot makes contact with the ground
- My knees are not bent enough when they strike the ground (again, mainly my left knee)
- I need to take more steps when I run – aim for 180 steps per minute
- I need to strike the ground softer
- I need to whip my ass into shape (literally) and strengthen my glutes
I’ll also mention that I’m a forefoot runner (opposed to a runner that strikes the ground with their heel) so some of my issues are unique to this. There are also a lot of unique things about me, just like there are for everyone else, so again, if you have any issues with your own body I highly recommend a running analysis. Do Google search for something in your area. If you’re in the Bay, I highly recommend Competitive Edge.
I’ll keep you guys posted on the race. I have a nice journey ahead of me, but I feel more ready than ever!
Check out The Unexpected Side Effects of Running