Knee pain and running

There is not a single mention of a zombie in this post. Except for this one.

So it was bound to happen. For 32 years, I didn’t run. It’s not like I was so sedentary that my skin had grown into the couch, but still. And then I just expected to train for a half marathon all easy-breezy without any problems? Naiveté? I prefer innocence.

During a five-mile run a few weekends ago, my left knee started to hurt. Understand this – my left knee (in fact, my whole left leg) has crackled and popped like a bowl of Rice Krispies for about as long as I can remember. I’d just gotten used to the fact that I might have bad knees. My dad has them. My sisters have them. And I found out my dad’s mother had them. Runs in the family. No pun intended.

At any rate, I made it through the five miles with some slight aggravation, but the pain didn’t go away immediately. It lingered throughout the rest of the Saturday but was significantly reduced by the next day. By my Tuesday run, it had all but subsided, so I went out for a short three-mile jaunt. I made it about half a mile before the pain started in again. I kept going, but started to worry about whether or not pushing through the pain was a good idea. Before my Thursday run that week, I bought a cheap knee brace and hit the treadmill. It helped, but there were still some joint issues going on.

And then that weekend, during a six-mile run, I had to drop off at five. I hated stopping. I felt like I was failing at a goal I had set. It took the stern advice and some admonishment from my running group to get me to chill out.

So on the advice of my friend, Eileen, I scheduled an appointment with the good folks over at Ellis & Badenhausen. They’re the orthopedists for the University of Louisville athletics department. I figured I’d be in good hands considering how often the UofL men’s basketball players end up hurt. Boom. Roasted.

At my visit, they took x-rays, examined my legs and had me do some general movements. I think I was expecting the doctor to deliver horrible news.

“You’re missing a knee cap.”

“Your bones have fused together and we’re going to have to break them in five spots.”

“We need you to play for the UofL men’s basketball team because we’ve run out of players who aren’t in rehab.”

As it turns out, I actually have quite healthy joints. There was plenty of space between my leg bones, and there was no cartilage damage to be found. That was the good news. The not-so-good-news: I have some alignment issues. At my knee joint, my left leg tends to bow in slightly. This causes my patella to erratically slide up and down, causing that “popping” sound and throwing everything out of whack.

Dr. Ellis asked me to consciously think about pulling my left leg out as I run. So when I took off for a three-miler that night, I did just that. I felt like I was running bow-legged, but when I glanced down, my leg seemed to be perfectly aligned. And guess what? No pain. In fact, when I got home and went upstairs, I didn’t hear the familiar cracking I usually do. The only side effect so far has been some sore muscles near my inner thigh and, well, my non-existent glutes. I suffer from FBS. Flat butt syndrome.

After that, I met with a physical therapist who went over some basic stretches and conditioning exercises that I’m continuing at home. It seems to be working, so I’ll keep them up.

One thing I’ve come to realize over the past few weeks is that almost all runners face some sort of joint/bone/muscle issues. I think I was assuming that my marathoner friends were superheroes. Turns out we’re all human.

Keep running, friends.

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6 responses to “Knee pain and running

  1. What’s with that picture? Dr. Ellis is awesome. He did my knee surgery, and most of my family too. Hope his advice keeps you from having one of your own. (Although, I was hoping to read that your new running style caused you to run like Phoebe in Central Park.)

  2. why is that person on the treadmill wearing half of a Storm Trooper costume? (glad you know more about your knee… I was worried you didnt have a knee cap)

  3. You are lucky. My mother doesn’t have a knee cap. She used to. Until she slipped on wet grass during a game of dodge ball many, many years ago. Back then, they didn’t know how to replace damaged parts. So they cut her knee open and took out the broken pieces.

    I have a knee cap but no cartilage, due to a Jack LaLanne-related injury when I was 14. I eat ibuprofin day and night.

    So be very kind to your knees. And to zombies. And to Cards fans.

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