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A few days ago, I got an e-mail from a reader who wanted to know about my knee pain.  You see, a while back, I suffered from major knee pain due to running.  My blog was filled with trips to the physical therapist’s office, packs, and knee sleeves.  But now… six years later – I am happy to report that I no longer have knee pain!

knee pain post

Here’s a brief history of my knee pain:

 

Began to run in Spring of 2006.

Onset of knee trouble was in January 2008.  At the time, I was running 20 – 25 miles a week.

Issues included: pain walking down the stairs, pain when bending my knees, and a crazy loud popping noise whenever I bent my knee.  I remember that after a 15.4 mile trail run in April 2008, I could barely walk for a WEEK.  It was terrible!

 

I was diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) by a sports medicine doctor.  Most people know PFPS as simply "Runner’s Knee."  Here’s an article about PFPS.  My doctor said that my primary issue was my legs were stronger on the outside than they were on the inside, and as a result, my thigh muscles pulled my patella bone up and out when I bent my knee.  The popping noise my knee made was simply my patella bone being jacked out of position by my muscles.

 

After that disastrous trail run, I decided to put myself on a Running Hiatus.  I intended to stop running for a month, but my hiatus turned into two months.  While on my running hiatus, I did other workouts – mostly biking.  In fact, I liked biking so much that I ended up signing up for a 60-mile Metric Century.

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I also started to swim.

 

At the end of my hiatus, which got me over the ‘pain hump,’ I slowly returned to running with my doctor’s okay.  I tried a while bunch of things to cure myself of Runner’s Knee. I went to physical therapy, did strength training exercises, wore orthotic arch supports, iced my knees and took over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs before and after workouts, and wore my knee sleeves (which hold your patella bone in place).

 

I continued to bike and swim, but I did the sports in spurts – I’d be into it for a few weeks, and then I’d default to mostly running.  But it seemed okay because all the things I was doing to ‘cure’ myself seemed to be working – as long as I was wearing my knee sleeves.  In fact, with my knee sleeves, I was totally pain-free and could run super long distances – even two marathons!   My knee sleeves make an appearance in almost all my race recaps from February 2009 to July 2011.

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But after July of 2011… I just stopped wearing knee sleeves.  For the longest time, I couldn’t run without them without experiencing serious Runner’s Knee symptoms.  One day, I clearly remember opting NOT to put them on… and I was fine! 

 

What changed?

 

I started to do triathlons.

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I had dabbled in biking and swimming for a while, but that spring, I suddenly felt very bored with running all the time.  I wanted to switch it up.  I signed up for a slew of triathlons and focused on cross training in all three sports.  I started to spend an equal amount of my workout time on the bike, in the pool, and running on the road.  I stopped thinking of myself as just a “runner” and started to think of myself as a “triathlete.”  By that summer,  I completely ditched the knee sleeves.

 

All of my doctors and my physical therapist told me that I needed to get serious about cross training if I wanted to run without pain.  And they were right!  Swimming and biking regularly helped even out my leg muscles.  My body felt more balanced that it had in years.  JUST running didn’t always agree with my body.  But mixing it up made me feel strong and powerful.  And I was having so much fun in the process!

 

Three years later, I’m knee pain free (well, I’d admit that one of my knees was a bit sore after my Half Ironman, but my whole body was sore, so…Hah!).  Even in the winters, when I tend to run more than bike or swim, my knees are fine.  I am sure that I could’ve gotten to this point by simply being really dedicated with my PT workouts.  But finding a whole new sport to love had lots of additional added benefits!  I’m convinced that triathlons saved my knees.  <3

 

Have you had a sports-related injury?  How did you finally ‘cure’ yourself of it?

{ 17 comments }

 

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  • Abby June 25, 2014, 2:58 pm

    Love this post! I have knee pain during higher mileage running weeks, but I never thought to try to take cross training more seriously! I bike a few times a week, but would love to get started swimming as well. What suits would you recommend for fitness swimming?

    Reply
    • Caitlin June 25, 2014, 2:58 pm

      I’ve tried a ton of suits and nothing stands out to me as OMG YOU MUST HAVE THIS SUIT. I like ones with thinner straps though. Have you seen Splish Suits? They are SUPER cute.

      Reply
  • Laura @ She Eats Well June 25, 2014, 3:22 pm

    I got runners knee training actually after my first marathon and it kept popping up for about a year and a half. I think I continued to run and overtrain too much. It was recommended for me to check out Chi Running – which is a book and then I took a running workshop for Chi Running where I learned how to run – Chi Running-style! It is totally bizarre to re-learn how to run in your twenties, but it’s helped me a lot! Oh, and I also do a lot of yoga now, which I love and is perfect for stretching out hamstrings from running!

    Reply
  • Rachel June 25, 2014, 4:41 pm

    In high school I was diagnosed with the same thing! This is kind of embarrassing, but it was due to marching band! In marching band you “roll step” which caused the outer side of my knee to be stronger than the inner side. I had pain every day, especially climbing stairs. Physical therapy helped me a lot, and also quitting marching band ;-) I haven’t actually heard anyone else talk about it before. I kind of thought it was some rare, freak thing.

    Reply
  • Kathleen Ojo @ My OJos June 25, 2014, 5:37 pm

    Great post! I had crazy runner’s knee symptoms starting in November last year. It got slightly better in January when I started strength training, and even better when I realized that the way I sit at work (with a leg either crossed or tucked under me) was really causing my knee to hurt. I wasn’t totally pain free until this May, though, which is when I did a Whole 30 and cut out all inflammatory EVERYTHING from my diet! I’m going to keep up the strength training and try to sit normally, so I don’t injure myself again, but I thought it was interesting that the pain went away with an anti-inflammatory diet. I know diet didn’t cause the injury, but being chronically inflamed sure made it hard to get rid of.

    Reply
    • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed June 26, 2014, 9:01 am

      Yeah the whole time I was reading the post, I was wondering if you were going to mention cutting out gluten! Does the timing line up at all?

      Reply
      • Caitlin June 26, 2014, 9:05 am

        Oh good thought – it was about a year later!

        Reply
  • LadyLara June 25, 2014, 5:40 pm

    The only thing that cured me of PFPS was taking Glucosamine supplements. Triathalon training was actually what gave me PFP in the first place! My doctor was supposed to be one of the best for athletic injuries but I realized no one knows anything about how to help PFPS. The physical therapy he prescribed me was actually making it worse.

    I thought supplements were hocus pocus until I heard enough people in my tri group telling me to do it. This was 12 years ago, today I’m knee pain free and running all over the place.

    Reply
  • Sydney June 25, 2014, 6:42 pm

    Hi Caitlin!
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post! Very helpful. I am currently dealing with runner’s knee but appear to be on the mend, it has just been a looooong and frustrating process that’s for sure! I am definitely going to try to commit to crosstraining better, I have done it in spurts but have never done it consistently so hopefully consisency will help. Also the knee sleeves have been very helpful recently. Thanks again so much for your insight! Please keep your fingers crossed for me :)

    Reply
  • Lindsey Gail June 25, 2014, 9:21 pm

    I am currently suffering from knee pain, although it seems more symptomatic of IT band issues, that really flared up after running my first marathon this summer. I am currently working on strengthening exercises and cross-training with weights while taking a hiatus from running. It’s kind of a total bummer given the beautiful start to the summer, but I have been keeping busy by volunteering at the races I would have been running. Thanks for always inspiring healthy choices- even if that means NOT running so our bodies can heal!

    Reply
  • Mai June 25, 2014, 11:00 pm

    I had runner’s knee for a bit when I first started running too. It eventually went away after a break and then slowly easing back into it. Ironically, I do triathlons these days, and I’m getting knee pain from biking! :/ Still working to find a solution…

    Reply
  • Elle June 26, 2014, 4:49 am

    Wow, I’m reading all this with a bit of jealousy – and admiration, of course! I’ve never been too sporty, but I do enjoy running and I have done a bunch of 5k races, but mainly after a running hiatus of a couple of months I fall back to my couch routine. How can I keep on running without losing interest/getting lazy? I can’t seem to find the motivation! (Ok no, now, one motivation would be, getting fitter with the project of baby n.1 in a few months, but that still seems so far off and I tell myself, “ah sure, I have plenty of time…tomorrow, I’ll start tomorrow!”.)

    As for injuries, my knees have always hurt, especially the right one, but I’ve linked it to those very flat shoes that were in fashion a few years ago. Rest, knee sleeves, GOOD shoes and taking it easy have helped a lot.

    Reply
    • Caitlin June 26, 2014, 8:22 am

      I think you need to find something that you really like to do, and then you need to create inertia by somehow holding yourself accountable. That’s why I’ve done so many races! Signing up for them way in advance keeps me on track. I don’t know how much *new* exercise is safe to do at this point in pregnancy for you, but perhaps you can start doing prenatal yoga and walking with the idea that you’re preparing your body for delivery?

      Reply
      • Elle June 26, 2014, 10:17 am

        Thanks Caitlin! Actually baby 1.0 is not on his/her way yet, before that I was hoping to get in better shape (I can barely climb a flight of stairs without feeling breathless!). But actually yes, signing up for a race (and telling EVERYONE about it) was a good motivation in the past – must look into new races in my area!

        Reply
  • Jill June 26, 2014, 8:01 am

    So glad your knee pain is a thing of the past. I see a guy who does Matrix Repatterning for any of my aches and pains, and it’s crazy what he can do to put things back in place.
    I’ve noticed lately that with my longer bike rides, I’m experiencing numbness in my hands! Foot numbness isn’t new to me, it takes me the first five or ten minutes off the bike until my feet adjust to running, but the hand thing is new and very weird! Any thoughts on that? I need a bike fit, just wondered if you’d had anything similar during your rides!

    Reply
  • Heather June 26, 2014, 8:06 am

    When I started running last year I started having problems with my knees pretty quickly into my training program. It wasn’t horrible as long as I didn’t run on back to back days so I ignored it. I had never been to a PT ever and didn’t consider it something to check out. I figured it was an age thing or weight related or my body just had to get used to running. 8 months after I started running, I started Crossfit (and became well acquainted with PT, ha!) and with all the running and squats my knees started to become a huge issue. I started using knee sleeves, but over time the pain got worse. I thought I had runners knee or a joint issue, but it turned out to be quadriceps tendonitis. My quads were so tight and strong in comparison to my hips and other leg muscles that they were over working and pulling the tendon that attaches my knees to my patella. The knee sleeves were actually making it worse (I didn’t have any issues with my knee tracking correctly). I had to work to strengthen the muscles on the outside of my legs and learn to be very dedicated about rolling my quads and stretching. It only took a couple of weeks and the pain was totally gone. I only get slight pain if I have a really heavy leg week and don’t roll out or stretch like I should.

    Reply
  • Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork June 26, 2014, 1:02 pm

    So glad you’re better! So funny–was just wondernig yesterday how your knees were doing because I was going through my injury-themed Pinterest board and had pinned your exercises. I have the board because I’ve also dealt with, and am dealing with, injuries. I had some weird glute issue last winter through summer that eventually got better with PT, lots of stretches, and lots of strengthening. As I was getting back to running, I developed plantar fasciitis. That finally got better after about 9 months, but is starting to flare up again. I’ve also had tennis elbow since last spring. I am a bit of a mess right now, but trying to stay positive! Knowing I was able to get over my glute injury and get my PF to a point of not bothering me gives me hope that my other ones will get better as well.

    Reply