Fixing Knee Pain For Athletes

Every year we hear from more and more athletes complaining about knee pain.
If you or your kid is experiencing pain in one or both knees, what can you do to resolve it?
For starters, you need to rule out that there is any structural damage.
See a doctor and, if it is concerning enough, get an MRI to confirm there isn't damage to the ligaments, meniscus, or tendons that may require a medical solution.
If that is ruled out, the next most likely scenarios are either that it is diagnosed as a growth-related issue (Osgood-Schlatter disease), or that there is no obvious reason for the pain.
And that leads to the obvious question, what can we do to fix this?
My suggestions would be two-fold:
First, the amount of running this athlete is doing needs to be cut down dramatically.
The rise in knee complaints goes hand in hand with a disturbing trend of extending every sports season a few extra weeks, and/or adding an ever growing number of practices, games or tournaments to the schedule.
Running is stressful on the joints, even in our younger years. We all have a limit of how much pounding our legs can take before we start to see breakdowns.
My first suggestion is if your kid is complaining of sore knees, find ways to limit their volume of running over time.
Managing workload is how college and pro athletes would handle the problem, so why should it be any different for younger athletes?
Second, you need to determine if the pain is coming from a significant mistake in their running technique.
In my experience there are three common technique flaws that are all fixable with the right type of adjustments.
The first is a heel strike landing during sprinting.
High speed running puts a lot of stress on your lower body. Luckily, our legs were designed to absorb these forces.
When you land properly, a combination of the muscles in your foot, Achilles tendon, calves & hamstrings stretch together much like a diving board would when jumping on the front half.
They stretch and then snap back to help you bound out into the next stride.
Athletes who land on their heels don't see this. They only receive a jarring interaction with the ground, much like jumping off the back end of a diving board.
This leads to repeated microtrauma that will inevitably cause pain somewhere, usually to the feet or knees.
So what is the solution?
The simplest fix is to run up as tall as possible at top speed. Oftentimes the heel strike is the only way to get back to the ground if you are leaning forward in your stride.
Second is to learn to 'step down' in your stride.
Since it is much easier to see the drills than read about them, I've created a 4 minute video that shows how anyone can improve their ability to 'step down' when sprinting.
If you are interested in seeing them, you can check it out here.
Next week we'll cover the second most common technique flaw that leads to recurring knee pain.

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