Five Tips to Avoid Knee Pain

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Athletes may think knee pain is the price they have to pay for intense training and high performance; but this doesn't always have to be the case.

Often, knee pain is caused not by an injury to the knee, but by weakness in surrounding support structures. This is true of IT Band Syndrome (ITBS), which commonly affects runners and other endurance athletes.

A ribbon of tendon-like connective tissue (fascia) running along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee, the IT Band (Iliotibial Band) helps stabilize the knee. Tightness in the IT Band can place pressure on nerve-rich thigh tissue, resulting in knee pain ranging from mildly uncomfortable to completely debilitating.

According to a study in the NSCA's Performance Training Journal, common causes of ITBS include poor running mechanics, weak hip muscles and tight hip muscles. Improper footwear, increasing training intensity too quickly, downhill running and general overuse also contribute to ITBS.

Based on these findings, ITBS can be prevented by following a few guidelines to minimize the risk of overworking your legs' support structure.

  • Wear proper footwear for your activity. For example, if you plan on running, wear running shoes that fit properly, provide sufficient support and are not worn out.
  • Improve running mechanics by consulting a coach or trainer. You can also film yourself running if a coach or trainer is unavailable. Key points to look for are upright posture, head in neutral position, steady body position, powerful and deliberate arm drive, high knee drive and long, powerful strides.
  • Follow a training program that gradually increases intensity and provides sufficient recovery. A great place to start is STACK's 4th Annual Summer Training Guide, an eight-week workout program that will make you stronger and faster.
  • Perform foam rolling exercises (video above) before or after workouts. As shown in the video below, you can foam roll directly on your IT Bands, quads and glutes, as well as on your thigh and hip muscles. Foam roll for as long as you like, but perform each exercise for at least 30 seconds.
  • Strengthen leg abductor muscles, specifically the gluteus medius, to increase hip stability. A simple way to do this: assume a Side Plank position and raise your upper leg, performing two sets of 15 reps. More advanced athletes can perform the Lateral Band Walk demonstrated by Drew Brees in the video above.

Source:  Brumitt, J. [2011]. Tips to Reduce Risk of Iliotibial Band Syndrome. NSCA Performance Training Journal , 9 [5].

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