Experiencing Knee Pain During Runs?

Knee pain is a very common issue among runners as well as our entire population.  Although pain is obviously aggravating for anyone and everyone, serious runners tend to get more frustrated with the situation because it may be preventing them from doing what they love or what they love is no longer enjoyable as it has become painful.  Just a little advice: Listen to your body.  If something is painful (while running or exercising) that’s a good indicator that you probably shouldn’t be doing it.  It is only going to aggravate the problem more and could lead to an even more serious injury.

As we are all build and structured differently, what may work for one person, may not work for another. Therefore, I can’t sit here and give you one exercise or one stretch that will cure your pain.  I wish it was that easy, but unfortunantly it’s not.  Everyone has different imbalances throughout their own, individual body.  If you are experiencing knee pain while running, there’s a good chance it’s related to a muscle imbalance somewhere between the core, hips, and legs that’s leading to the kneecap riding inappropriately along the groove of the femur that it slides on.

From books and research I’ve read, as well as from my own experience with myself & clients, I’ve found that many people experiencing knee pain often have tight hip flexors and quads, weakness in the glute medius and maximus, and possibly tightness in the hamstrings and calves.

As you can see, the problem could be arising from numerous places.  If you are working with a trainer, it’s the trainer’s job to figure out what these imbalances are and put together an action plan so that you can be on your way to running pain free.  If you are not working with a trainer, it may be more challenging trying to figure out/work out your imbalances.  Here are a few exercises/stretches I’d suggest trying on your own…

First, and most obvious, following a workout (you should be warm) stretch and foamroll your quads, hipflexors, hamstrings, and calves.  Pay attention to how it feels on one side versus the other side (remember we’re looking for imbalances between sides).  Try holding an elbow plank for 45s.  How’s your core strength? Try a single leg squat to test glute medius/max strength (I’d suggest doing this on a box or bench).  Does your knee fall inward as you try to stand?  If so, time to do some glute strengthening.  Like I said before, you’re looking for imbalances in your body, between sides.  Take note if one hip flexor/quad is tighter than the other, or if it’s much easier standing up from a seated position on your right leg versus your left.  If this is true, there’s a good chance some compensation is going on somewhere resulting from an imbalance.

Our body works together as one functional unit, rather than indivual, separate parts.  This is why it’s so imporant that we have balance throughout our entire kinetic chain.  If one piece of the chain is broken, the entire rest of the chain will be affected.

I will post a video of a great strength training circuit for runners (targeting glute medius/max) soon! : )

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Tips to Maintaining a Healthy Back

According to the Journal of Pain published by the American Pain Society, up to 85% of Americans have experienced low back pain. That’s a lot.  So what can you do on a day to day basis in order to not to let yourself fall into this category?

1.  Be aware of posture while sitting and standing. 

As most people spend a very generous amount of time either sitting at a computer desk, sitting on the couch, or commuting to and from work,  it is very important that good posture is maintained throughout the hours you are stuck in this position.  For example, when you’re sitting at your desk, you typically will spend a good amount of time with your hand on your mouse.  If you’re right handed, for many people this translates to your spine bending toward the right and your right ribcage dropping to that side.  Ultimately the soft tissue structures on the right side of the spine will get used to this chronic side bending and the spine will begin to develop this permanent bend to the right (or left if you are left handed).  But wait, it only gets worse…upon weightbearing (standing), now that you’ve spent so many hours, days, maybe even years, in this seated position with your spine bending to the right, now your hips must adjust to the change in center of gravity.  For example, a lateral bend to the right side would move the weight of your torso to the right.  The hips would then have to shift to the left in order to help the body balance.  This hip shift to the left is your body compensating for the spine side bending to the right.  It’s likely that eventually this compensation will lead to pain in the right side of the spine, lower back, and/or left hip.

In addition to a lateral bend in the spine, an excessive forward bend can do just as much damage.  Commonly seen while watching TV, sitting at the computer, or driving, problems here typically stem from a rounded upper back & shoulders.  In addition, ones neck tends to protrude forward (see my post on upper cross syndrome for more info).  When the thoracic spine rounds forward, the ribcage drops at the front of the torso.  This in turn, can restrict blood supply to your internal organs as well as affects breathing since more pressure is put on your diaphragm. Doesn’t sound too appealing.

2.  Build a strong core.  

Believe it or not, your core is used in almost every single activity/movement you do.  It’s used to stabilize, balance and protect the body as well as to transfer energy from one body segment to another. This would be why building a strong core is so important to maintaining a healthy back.  And no, doing a thousand crunches a day is not going to get you a strong core.  Strong rectus abdominis, yes, but more focus needs to be placed on strengthening your transverse abdominis (that core muscle that wraps completely around your body like a belt), erector spinae, internal/external obliques etc. ….  This can be done through stabilization exercises such as bird dogs (for beginners), elbow planks, side planks, deadbugs + all the various progressions to these exercises (I’ll post soon regarding various progressions/regresssions for all these).

Why avoid all the crunches? Well, when you do crunches, you are putting extra stress & tension on your spine and vertebral discs due to the constant state of spinal flexion.  Do you want a bulging or herniated disc? Didn’t think so. Lay off all the crunches.

3.  Stretch regularly & treat yourself to a massage. 

Tight or shortened hip flexors can affect the position of your pelvis which in turn can affect the position & movement  of the lower back.  The iliopsoas (composed of 2 muscles: the iliacus and the psoas) would be the muscle that contributes probably the most to this pain.  Lying very deep, the psoas is attached to the sides of the lumbar vertebrae and inserts on the inner upper femur (thighbone).  Therefore, if this muscle is tight, there’s a good chance that it’s pulling on your lower back, creating tension & pain in the low back.  Stretching regularly can help to reduce this pain, as well as getting a massage by a liscensed massaged therapist.  Although I said “treat yourself to a massage,” you should actually look at getting massages as regular maintenance.  There are some issues that regular stretching may not be able to fix, but that a massage therapist may be able to help you out with.

By paying attention to your posture throughout the day, strengthening your core, stretching & getting massages every now & then, you will be doing yourself a huge favor in the long run by maintaining a healthy back.  Even though the gym membership & massages do add up, I’m sure they’ll be much less expensive than the MRI and physical therapy you’ll have to undergo to manage the pain that a bulged disc has created.  Take care of what you can now so you won’t have to deal with much larger problems later.

Thanks for reading! : )

Physical Vs. Emotional Hunger

When you reach for the cookie jar, are you responding to a physical hunger or are you responding to emotional hunger?  In otherwords, is your body telling you, “Feed me, I’m starving!” or did you just have a bad day and are thinking, “I could really use a hug right now, oh well…these cookies should make me feel better.”

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of both physical hunger & emotional hunger…

Physical Hunger

  • Builds gradually
  • Strikes below the neck (growling stomach)
  • Occurs several hours after a meal
  • Goes away when full
  • Eating leads to a feeling of satisfaction

Emotional Hunger

  • Develops suddenly
  • Occurs above the neck (you have a “taste” for ice-cream)
  • Unrelated to time
  • Persists despite fullness
  • Eating leads to guilt & shame

Think about this next time you reach for the bowl of miniature snickers you have sitting on your desk. Is your body actually telling you your’re hungry or is it all in your head?

(P.S If you actually do have a bowl of miniature snickers sitting at your desk, GET RID OF THEM! Seeing them right there in front of you is only going to tempt you to eat them.  Although you may deny yourself once or even twice,  eventually you’ll give in since self-control is an exhaustable resource (if you haven’t read my post on the science of self-control, read it & you’ll understand what I mean).

Therefore, terms of eating habits, here’s my advice to you…

  1. Think before you eat.
  2. Eat to live, don’t live to eat.

*Reference: Mindless Eating by Dr. Brian Wansink

Mantra for the Minute

Mantra: [man-truh], a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of “creating transformation.”

Transcend the moment.

This mantra is simple to understand if you break it down as well as a great mantra to live by. 

To transcend is to go above or beyond (a limit or expectation). The moment obviously is referring to this very moment we are in.

So spend this day and the next, and the next,  focusing on how you can transcend the moment.  How can you make the most of your hours at work, your hours in the gym, your hours at home with your family?  This could be simply finishing a project early or putting a little more focus and dedication into it.  It could be pushing yourself harder at the gym rather than letting your mind tell you there’s no way I can do this.  It could be doing that extra something special for your significant other or kids.

I suggest writing down this mantra (somewhere you can see it so you will be reminded of it) or you taking five minutes out of your day first thing  in the morning repeating it to yourself, allowing you to gain focus on how you will carry it out that day.   

There you go, make every moment your best moment.  Transcend.