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No more knee pain and how I got there by Richard Lander Stow

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I wrote a blog entry for Wimbledon Clinics last year entitled “Knee Pain. How bad can it be?” Which you can find here:  Knee Pain Blog

I thought that you might appreciate an update on my progress as it is one thing to start moving in the right direction, but another to maintain momentum and not slip back into bad habits.

Background

I suffered gradually increasing knee pain throughout the last few years until it seriously hampered me in an ultra marathon. I finally had an MRI scan and went to see an orthopaedic consultant. He told me to get heel lifts, stop running and that it wouldn’t get any better. This was terrible advice for an athlete, albeit a very slow one, and it was quite the emotional blow. I am 38 and have been healthy and active for pretty much all of my adult life.

My coach at the time, Neil Scholes, helped me find Jonathan Bell for a second opinion which I immediately, due to a fluke cancellation, followed with an appointment with Claire Robertson for some specialist physio advice. It turned out that I had Patella Femoral Pain or Runner’s Knee as it is commonly known. The diagnosis was a fairly simple one, but fixing the matter took several months and quite a few lifestyle changes which incorporated the advice that Jonathan and Claire gave me.

Progress

Until two days ago I wouldn’t have been prepared to say that my knee was better. It frequently niggles during training if I lapse in my stretching regime and I was worried that it would bring me to a halt in a longer running race. In reality I know that I get a bit obsessed with my knee and focus on it too much. These days, if I think objectively, it doesn’t really hurt any more than the rest of my body after a hard training session and the popping that it used to do on my bike has now disappeared.

So what happened two days ago? Well, I took part in one of the toughest ultramarathons in the UK. It has an average drop out rate of around 50%, and I got 60 miles into it, including 18 hours of running and walking, before timing out at a checkpoint 20 miles from the end. This was The Oner which started at noon from Charmouth and you have until noon the next day, following the coastal path, to get to the finish at Studland. The hills are some of the steepest in the UK and at points they hit you one after the other with little respite. I have put the elevation profile from my GPS below.

This was my second attempt and I got 6 miles further than last year. Next year I hope to get further again, hopefully to the finish if I can get the training in.

As you can see the steep hills don’t do the competitors any favours and they are almost guaranteed to cause a flare up of any underlying knee issues. The descents are often so steep that you cannot simply relax and fly down them, and the ascents are relentless quad burners.

Today as I sit here writing this two days after running sixty very hilly miles I have no knee pain whatsoever. I encountered no knee issues during the race, and I can say with confidence that the advice given by Jonathan and Claire was a turning point in my rehabilitation.

We are all different, but here are some of the things that I did that have helped make the difference:

  • Committed to appropriate stretching. Brief dynamic stretching once warmed up, repeated later during the run if I feel anything tighten up. I still do exactly the routine that Claire showed me.
  • Frequent use of the foam roller between runs on my quads and calf muscles.
  • Static stretching after runs, focussed on my quads plus a few other bits that I have found benefit from some stretching. I am genuinely a bit rubbish at remembering to do this though and often end up doing it while sipping a glass of wine and watching the TV before bed.
  • Claire wrote a letter, with my permission, to my local sports therapist who was happy to help. I see her on a regular basis as she can dig an elbow into the places that a foam roller and tennis ball simply can’t reach. If you have been to a sports massage therapist then you will know exactly what I mean.

Generally in my life I have made the following changes in support of the above:

  • I have a desk that I can work at either sitting or standing as most of my working time is carried out using a computer.
  • I use the foam roller and stretch after long drives.
  • I took professional advice on a more ergonomic work position for when I am seated.
  • I worked hard at my running form, having 3 running technique sessions over two years with Kinetic Revolution and as the stretches started to take effect the improvements in my running efficiency became obvious.

The key to all of this was in my first bullet point: COMMITMENT! Much like giving up smoking (or cake!) you have to put an effort in to correct a life time of poor form, posture and ergonomics. Take it from me though, the end result is well worth it.

About the Author

Richard Lander Stow runs his own business, Firefly IT Solutions Ltd, and is currently studying part time for his Masters degree in Digital Forensics and Information Security. When he is not working or spending time with his family Richard blogs about his sporting activities at www.bikerunswim.co.uk and his wife’s leukaemia and fundraising activities at www.theleukaemiaconcl