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3 Proven Tips to End Knee and Ankle Pain for Runners

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Having knee pain while running or ankle pain while running are common obstacles for that many people experience. In Austin, Texas we commonly see people encounter this problem when people are preparing for the Austin Marathon, the 3M half marathon, Cap 10k, and others throughout the year. There are things to look at when reducing knee and ankle pain from running. We will discuss the best ways to overcome these issues holistically, without the use of drugs or surgery. 

Knee pain while running

Understanding Knee and Ankle Pain for Runners

One of the primary functions of the foot is to be the main shock absorber for the body. Each time we step when walking, we must absorb up to 3x our body weight. When we run, our feet must work to absorb even more shock-upwards of 5x our body weight. The knee serves as the secondary shock absorber for the body and must also work to distribute this force while walking or running. 

It is important to understand these concepts to better conceptualize what happens as a result of a problem showing up in either the knee or the foot. Collectively the foot, ankle, and the knee work as a unit to absorb shock. They can be visualized as a unit that works together. A problem in either foot will ultimately impact the knees, and a problem in either knee will ultimately impact the feet. This means if you have a right knee injury, you should also have your left knee and both feet evaluated. They work as a unit and need to be addressed as one.

Common Causes of Knee and Ankle Pain in Runners

  1. Overuse injuries-

Overuse injuries typically occur due to too much work for the body too quickly. An example of this is increasing mileage faster than what the body can handle. Many people use a preset training schedule when training for a marathon or half marathon, rather than one that is made uniquely for their body. This can be problematic and potentially lead to overuse injuries in the ankle and knee.

  1. Biomechanical problems- 

Biomechanical issues of the foot, ankle, and knee can be present due to many reasons such as past injury without proper rehabilitation. Common biomechanical issues of the foot include things like overpronation or supination, flat feet, over or under rotation of the knee, and more. These biomechanical issues typically lead to increased tightness and many times cramping or strained muscles in surrounding areas. Common symptoms that occur from biomechanical problems of the foot, ankle, and knee include symptoms like IT band tightness, shin splints, cramping in the arch of the foot, calf strains, and more.

  1. Improper footwear-

The right shoes for running can be hard to find. This is often because what is popular in style, is not usually the most functional for our feet. The type of shoes many runners select are purely based off of looks rather than function of the shoe, or how it will fit their individual needs. Functional things to consider are things like shoe stack height, flexibility of the shoe (especially as it allows our foot to toe off), and heel to toe drop. This is why it’s typically best to get advice from running experts in a shoe store to find the right shoe for your needs. For specific shoe choices that fit your needs, we recommend a specialized shoe store that can give guidelines such as Fleet Feet in Austin, Texas. 

Effective Tips to Reduce Knee and Ankle Pain During Runs in Austin, TX 

The amount of information on the web to reduce knee and ankle pain during running can feel overwhelming. We have compiled our most impactful strategies for overcoming knee pain while running and ankle pain while running below for you. 

Tip 1: Optimal Footwear Selection for runners

We always recommend starting in a good running shoe store in person like Fleet Feet in Austin, Texas.  Many have great technology that can help you find the perfect shoe for your foot. Essentially we want to select a shoe that will fit our foot correctly but more importantly something that will let our feet do the right amount of work. What we mean by this is that if the shoe is doing most of the work, propelling the foot forward and helping to absorb the impact, it alters the health of the foot over time, and the muscles of the foot become weak, leading to increased risk of injury.

Something to consider however is the amount of running you do relative to the health of your foot. The healthier the foot, the less support is needed from the shoe. Instances in which you may consider more support is if you are running, on pavement for longer distances like training for a half marathon or a full marathon. This can be hard on the joints, even for a healthy body. 

Selecting the right shoe for a healthy foot

Generally speaking we want a shoe that allows our foot to do more work, like a barefoot shoe, when walking around doing day to day activities. When going for longer or more frequent runs, especially on pavement, we typically would want a shoe with more support. For this reason we recommend having multiple shoes for different occasions. 

Think of it like a car. A Ferrari would be great to own, but not practical for everyday driving. We would want a more fuel efficient vehicle for day to day commuting in traffic. We might then have a fun car or two for different occasions. When selecting a daily shoe, we typically want a low heel to toe drop, a wide toe box, and enough flexibility for us to toe off. When we run on pavement frequently however, we want a shoe with more cushion, maybe a little higher heel to toe drop, and not as much flexibility in the toe. The shoe should be paired to our activity and foot health. 

Tip 2: Incorporate stability exercises for runners

Most people are familiar with stretching or foam rolling either as a warm up or cool down when running. Where many miss the mark, is not incorporating stability exercises for running.  Stability exercises are aimed to keep the joints of the body healthy. Important areas to target for stability exercises would be the hips and the feet. Below are a few stability exercises that can be incorporated into your routine for improved support while running. 

Top stability exercises for runners

  1. Glute bridge- a glute bridge can be done by laying on your back with the feet bent and on the floor in front of you. Before lifting the hips off the ground, the low back should be flat and in contact with the floor. This will help engage the core muscles. Once in this position “bridge up” by lifting the hips up off the ground. A good general starting place for most people is 3 sets of 10 repetitions. This can be done 3-5 times per week depending on the individual. 
  2. Bird dog- the bird dog is a core exercise designed to build the stability of the core. Start in a table top position on all 4’s on the floor. Create a flat back and engage the core muscle by abdominal bracing. From here, lift each limp off the floor one at a time, holding for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 to 10 times on each limb. This done for time rather than reps, will help runners more than doing it for reps. 
  3. Short foot exercise- the short foot exercise is done by placing the foot flat on the floor and trying to squeeze the arch to lift it up. This should be done without curling the toes. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds, then repeat 5- 10 times. 

These stability exercises for runners will typically be more effective in overcoming biomechanical imbalances that can contribute to knee pain or ankle pain while running. Stretches and foam rolling are designed to give quick symptom relief. They do not typically address the deeper root of the issue. Stretches and foam rolling can still be done, but shouldn’t be solely relied on for effective long term health. 

Tip 3: Evaluate your nervous system to improve your running

The nervous system-the brain and spinal cord, is known as the master control center of the body. It controls and coordinates all of our daily functions including movement, coordination, balance, and proprioception (spacial awareness). When running all these things are vitally important. If we have altered movement or spatial awareness, it will eventually lead to biomechanical issues that are common in runners. An optimal nervous system leads to pain free joints, and optimal movement. It just makes sense! 

Where does nervous system dysfunction come from?

Nervous system dysfunction, better known in chiropractic as Subluxation, is caused by many things such as over training, past injury, or stressful in lifestyle factors. Similar to a car, the more we drive it, the more maintenance it requires. Somehow that doesn’t always make sense to us when it comes to the human body. We are sold on the idea of quick fixes and gadgets rather than true health optimization and maintenance care. If you’ve played sports or run long enough, you’ve probably heard the phrase “shake it off, and keep going.” Bad advice! It eventually catches up with us.

What to do about nervous system dysfunction?

Seeing a chiropractor who specializes in a nervous system based approach is the most effective way to overcome nervous system dysfunction, or subluxation. Many spinal problems will effect the feet and knees and oftentimes show up as pain in those areas. This is why many athletes and runners utilize a chiropractor on a regular basis. An optimal nervous system means better biomechanics, less muscle tightness and achy joints, and overall faster recovery time. At Lifespring Chiropractic, we also specialize in adjustments to the feet and knees. Our chiropractors undergo hundreds of hours of extra training to have a specialized understanding of the ankle and knee. 

During your first visit at Lifespring Chiropractic, we will measure the health of your spine and nervous system. We will also do an exam on the feet and knees to find the root cause of where your symptoms are coming from. Don’t let the excuse of age or genetics keep you from enjoying running with the people you love. Schedule your first visit at Lifespring Chiropractic here.