Why runners’ knee is NOT inevitable

Pain is inevitable if you’re approaching the BIG 40 and running 50 plus miles a week. Your knees will creak, your hips will complain, your lower back will whinge, etc, etc… and it’s only going to get worse as you age. Best take up golf or some other hobby that blokes do when they realise they’ve used up about half the time they’ll get on this planet.

That’s bollocks, thankfully.

You can’t completely rule out aches and pains, of course, but the idea that pain in runners’ knees/feet/shins/calves/wherever will only intensify with age is a myth. Rather, those niggles are most likely symptoms of other stuff going on (or not going on) in the body. But don’t listen to me – I’m just a former fatso having a midlife crisis (see my disclaimer below) – listen to Jamie Webb, who says a combination of strength training, stretching and massage will keep muscles working as they should well into old age.

“Contrary to popular belief, your body does not automatically undergo ‘wear and tear’ as you get older – it is not a piece of carpet!”

And he has an advanced diploma in clinical sports therapy, so knows what he’s talking about. “Contrary to popular belief, your body does not automatically undergo ‘wear and tear’ as you get older – it is not a piece of carpet!” says Jamie, a therapist at Brighton Sports Therapy. “Your body is a brilliant piece of kit. Muscles don’t just deteriorate over time. If you lead a very sedentary lifestyle with poor nutrition however, they may begin to waste away due to inactivity – if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

“I spent nine hours plus a day sat at a desk, did little exercise and was overweight. My bad back was a symptom of my lardy arse”

He’s right. I used to suffer from excruciating lower back pain, not because there was anything wrong with my back but because I spent nine hours plus a day sat at a desk, did little exercise and was overweight. My bad back was a symptom of my lardy arse. Or more specifically, core muscles weakened by hours sat slumped at a desk.

I got fitter and the back got better. Until last autumn that is, when my lumber region began spasming after hill sessions. It wasn’t as bad as it had been in the past, but it was enough to make me worry. If my back was suffering after 10 miles in the South Downs, what would it be like after 100 in the Sahara? I soon became despondent.

“Viewing running related pain as a clue to a weakness (usually) somewhere else in the body has allowed me to continue to gradually increase my mileage in preparation for the MdS”

But the pain was a puzzle that needed solving, not a sign that my muscles were deteriorating. I realised that on down hill stretches I was instinctively leaning back to slow my descent; this was putting strain on my lower back and causing the post run spasms. A stronger core would give me greater stability on the descents and prevent my spine from automatically arching back, I reckoned, so I began doing planks, v sits and hollow body exercises to strengthen my core.

It worked. And viewing running related pain as a clue to a weakness (usually) somewhere else in the body has allowed me to continue to gradually increase my mileage in preparation for the MdS. Pain in my inside knee has disappeared after I began regularly doing hip strengthening exercises (reverse lunges, clams, bridges, etc); the constant feeling that my calves have been filled with red hot concrete is gradually subsiding thanks to regular stretches, massages, rolling and strengthening exercises.

“In healthy joints, cartilage acts as a protective barrier between bones, providing a smooth surface between the bones that’s much more slippery than ice”

Such measures are crucial, says Jamie: “Strengthening your muscles through exercise positively affects your ligaments and tendons and will improve your body’s scaffolding around your joints, reducing any impact on your cartilage. In healthy joints, cartilage acts as a protective barrier between bones, providing a smooth surface between the bones that’s much more slippery than ice.”

Which is great news. I’m crap at golf, and I’m not sure any club would let me wear SHORT shorts on the fairway, so the longer I can keep running the better.

Disclaimer: I have no medical training. I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, a physio or a sports therapist; I doubt they’d even give me job handing out oranges at half time of a football match. I am just a type-one diabetic and former fat bloke with a stupid idea. This blog is my account of following that idea to its conclusion. Do not attempt anything similar without seeking prior medical (and psychiatric) advice.

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