So you wanna run, but your knees get too sore? I hear this frequently, and can understand the feeling. Most of the time, doing some training to start running can help but there are other considerations as well.
When I first started running I just wanted to get out there. I didn't have any accumulated running gear, and I was hitting the concrete streets of Toronto. At first it was uncomfortable - like my body didn't quite understand how to run, or how to run properly. I thought I was in good shape, but my heart was racing, and I was sore!
Fast forward to today and my knees have become a non-concern. It takes conditioning, the right gear and the right type of run, but you too can run with less knee pain.
Here are my top tips for reducing the knee pain of running:
1) Wear really good running shoes and rotate them often.
Purchase one pair of really great (and often more expensive) running shoes, but make sure to replace them within about 6 months - earlier if you're covering more distance in them. For runners hitting about 20-40km per week, your shoes might only last you 3-4 months. Or, you can purchase several pairs and rotate them frequently. Each pair of shoes will last longer in that way, though you may have to spend more in the short-term.
2) Strengthen your hips!
You can relieve the strain on your knees by increasing the strength of your hips and glutes. This even extends into the pelvic cavity and low back as strengthening these muscle groups help to keep the body and joints more stable. Lunges, squats, hip adduction and hip abduction will all support this.
Yoga can also act as a strengthening exercise for those muscles. Look for yoga videos or classes specifically tailored to runners. Christine Felstead has a great book called "Yoga for Runners" as well, and she often teaches at the annual Toronto Yoga Conference & Show.
At the same time, beware of deep tissue work that can over relax major muscle groups. Using a foam roller on the legs - especially the IT band - is fantastic, and can help to decrease knee soreness. However, a really deep tissue massage of the low back, hips and glutes might actually set you back by a few days. It's not uncommon to feel a little too loose and wonky after a really tough massage, so be prepared to restrengthen those muscle groups.
3) Avoid running on concrete.
Cement has very little give for a runner compared to a trail. If you can run on softer surfaces, opt for that! With a slightly lesser impact, your joints feel less of a shock. Myself personally, I find that I'm more sore the day after I've run on concrete versus a dirt trail or boardwalk.
4) Run with a mid-foot strike, or on the balls of the feet.
Running with a heel-strike may look good in an advertisement, but mechanically is murderous on your legs. When you strike with your heel, the impact of that strike shoots up the leg with a more compressive force on the knee and hip joints. By using the mid-foot or balls of the feet, the back half of your foot acts as a sort-of shock absorber. This allows you to bounce more gently, taking the pressure off the knee joint and putting it more on your muscles to catch you and propel you forward.
The only downside to this is that some newer runners may notice shin splints when starting this technique. Doing a proper warm-up and post-run stretch can help alleviate that stress. As can magnesium, foam rolling, and using hot and cold water therapy as appropriate.
5) Consider additional joint support via supplementation.
Depending on your age and physical and medical history, this might include cartilage helpers like glucosamine and chondroitin; anti-inflammatory substances such as Omega-3 fish oil and curcumin; or other vitamin, mineral, and amino acid support such as vitamin C, hydrolyzed collagen, and bone broths.
6) Visit a physiotherapist
If you're unsure about your running technique and you're getting pain or soreness, it might be time to go see a physiotherapist. They can assess your gait and stance, perform muscle testing, and then set you up with stretching and/or active motion exercises to reduce your pain and support proper body mechanics. (If you have insurance benefits for physio, this one is a no-brainer!)