My affair with injury began five years back training once a week to compete in 10K’s and half marathons. While pushing the pace or hitting 8-9 miles my legs would rebel, resulting in swollen, niggly knees and sometimes even shooting pain. This happened after almost every run and paying little attention to the signs I wrote it off as ‘how my body responds to exercise’.
The Fine Line Between Niggles And Injury
One year on, while training for my first half marathon the niggling pain became consistent leaving me no choice but to stop running. Months flew by but the second I started running again I felt that same searing pain! One physio appointment later, it turns out my tissue had scarred and ripped again. I was told to do a couple of strength exercises often and wear specific insoles. The new insoles seemed to help, so I naturally went for the easy option and forgot my exercises.
Getting faster and more confident I finished my first half marathon and started regularly setting new PB’s for the 10K (nothing exciting.) Then I started lifting the distance, in an effort to hit new heights and maybe fulfill my dream of a full marathon.
This entailed running once a week and hitting the gym twice a week…but shortly after I was injured again. This time a tear in my outer thigh. I couldn’t believe it, this had me out for almost two months. After a short rehabilitation I started running and guess what? The same muscle went again, this time running downhill.
Why did my body break down and why couldn’t I run farther than a half marathon? I had no idea how to treat knee pain and thigh strains, so reached out. Some of the info you see below came courtesy of Clare Davison (my physio) and Jayson Cavill (my coach.) You should always treat your own injury as unique and seek help like I did, but below is what happened for me.
The source of my knee pain and thigh strains
A few factors brought about my injuries.
- Lack of strength: Weak quads, glutes and a lack of stability put pressure on the small muscles and ligaments around my knee.
- Over pronation: Rolling in stretched and pulled the surrounding fibres. This comes from weak hips which can be associated with the bullet point above.
- Inconsistent, high intensity runs: Running once a week but longer distance and hard is a recipe for disaster. I was battering my muscles every session and as a result breaking down more than building up.
- Not using the 10% rule: I built up too quick. Throwing in two gym sessions on top of my run was too much too soon and left no room for recovery.
- Dysfunctional knees: Stemmed from my previous career as a Dancer. For me this just exacerbated the issues above.
How To Treat Knee Pain And Thigh Strains Long Term
Insoles – Due to my dysfunctional knees I may always need insoles providing that little extra support to avoid over pronation. To understand if this is necessary for you, see a physio who specializes in running.
Consistent, structured training – Training more often but less intense has helped me two fold. Building my endurance with slower runs Jayson has added speed in a safe way without risking injury. Hammering every session achieves one thing, damaged muscles and less progress.
Sticking to the plan – We all set out with a plan for how to build up the distance or reach a target, but it is very easy to get carried away and push things too hard, too soon. I spent 5 months building a base which took a lot of patience, but am now really seeing the benefits.
Strength and conditioning – We could talk about this all night but I have a specialized programme from Jayson and everyone will require a different approach. I do four sessions a week, averaging 40 minutes, each session works my whole body but really hones in on my weaknesses. I’ll explain a couple of the useful exercises for knee pain and thigh strains further down.
Ice, stretching and foam rolling – An ice bath after every long run helps me no end (just 2-3 minutes.) I also stretch out my glutes and quads followed by foam rolling. Note, I tried a ‘spiky’ roller and got badly bruised, so opted for a smoother option but everyone is different, its all trial and error.
Strength And Conditioning Exercises
Here are a few of the exercises which helped my knee pain and thigh strains. I’m only sharing two as they are part of a much bigger workout. To get the best results, I’d recommend seeing a coach who can tailor strength and conditioning around your issues…Jayson has worked wonders for me.
Clamshells – Lying on your side with knees together and bent at 45 degree angle, open the top knee out, engaging glutes and close, repeat. This helps glute strength and your IT band. Week glutes play a massive role in many running injuries.
Reverse sliding lunge – Foot keeping contact with the floor slide backwards bending supporting leg into lunge position, then slide back up. Be sure to lift from supporting leg and not rely on the sliding leg too much. My general quad strength has improved a great deal since adding these to the regime.
My weekly mileage is double (and rising) that of my injury prone past. I run 5 times a week and do strength work 3-4 times a week. I’ve knocked 7 minutes of my 10K PB and I run a half marathon every weekend in training. That is the same distance which put me in bits three years ago. I also run hills and trails at least once a week which again, left me in bits previously. Its been a break through year for me personally but the most important step was accepting, if nothing changes, nothing changes.