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Question
Posted by: zulululu | 2005/12/06

Running and impact on knees

I am currently busy with a training program I found on your website - intermediate running - 10km's in 6 weeks. I am battling to get past the 6km mark, as my knees are packing up after that! I'm 41 years old - female - and ran for years while I was at school (long ago...), but I don't understand why I can't succeed with the program! I think it might be my weight - 1,71m and weigh 72, but I'm dropping the kg's currently - I'm on an excellent life style management diet. Should I rather go and see a specialist? I don't want to get operated on as I've heard so many stories of knee ops which didn't succeed. Should I accept my running days are over and switch to the stepper or flyer instead? Please assist? Thanks.

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Our expert says:
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Hi there

An injury usually happens because there is some underlying problem, which is subsequently 'exposed' by the sudden strain placed on the joint. So, for example, you may have an inherent weakness in the knees, caused perhaps by muscle strength imbalances, who knows? I am speculating here, but what has happened now is that the running you are doing has placed additional demand on the joint, which, because of the problems, it's unable to cope with. So the solution is to find out what the cause is. The knee pain is the symptom, the exercise and running is the catalyst, but you need to know what the real cause is. It may be muscle strength, perhaps there is some leg length difference, perhaps cartiliage degeneration, it could be any number of things. So my advice is that you need to see a doctor dealing specifically with sports injuries. Not a GP, but a specialist. Or, you should try to see a physio or a biokineticist, it may be a simple problem.

As far as the training goes, sit tight at the point where you feel no pain. So maybe you can handle 5 km - then do 5 km, no more. I suspect that if the specialist decides that you need a strength programme (often, knee pain can be corrected by rest, the proper shoes and some strength training for muscles that work around the knee), then in a month or so, you should be able to increase the training load.

Finally, all injuries occur because the training volume increases more rapidly than the body is ready for. In some people, training can be increased very quickly and there is no problem, they are the lucky ones. In others, it has to increase more gradually, again because there is some underlying problem. But the body is an amazing thing - it can usually adapt to any load if it is given enough time. The problem is that it's on the body's time, and not ours! So perhaps what you need to do is be more patient and just go back and say that rather than getting to 10 km in 6 weeks, you should be doing this in 12 weeks, and do the same programme where every week is done twice. This may make a huge difference too.

GOod luck, and don't despair. Unless something is very wrong with your knees, which will require a specialist's opinion, you will be able to run again.
Good luck

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