Running is a great way to stay in shape, manage stress, and increase your overall wellbeing. However, it's not without its drawbacks. While being a low-risk activity, there are a few injuries that commonly affect runners. As running is a repetitive impact activity, most running injuries develop slowly and can be challenging to get on top of. Here are three of the most common conditions faced by runners, all of which can be helped by your physiotherapist.
1. Runner's Knee:
Runner's knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome) is a persistent pain at the front or inside of the knee caused by the dysfunctional movement of the kneecap during movement. The kneecap sits in a small groove at the centre of the knee and glides smoothly up and down as the knee bends and straightens. If something causes the kneecap to move abnormally, such as muscle imbalance or poor footwear, the surface underneath can become damaged, irritated, and painful. The pain might be mild to start with, but left untreated, runner's knee can make running too painful to continue.
2. Shin Splints:
Shin splints (also known as medial tibial stress syndrome) is a common condition characterised by a recurring pain on the inside of the shin. While the cause of this condition is not always clear, it is usually due to repeated stress where the calf muscles attach to the tibia (shin bone). Why this becomes painful is likely due to a combination of factors that can be identified by your physiotherapist to help you get back on track as soon as possible.
3. Achilles Tendonitis/Tendinopathy:
The Achilles tendon is the thick tendon at the back of the ankle that attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone. The amount of force that this tendon can absorb is impressive. It is vital in providing the forward propulsive force needed for running. If the stresses placed on the tendon exceed its strength, the tissues begin to breakdown and become painful. Treatment is focused on helping the healthy tendon tissues to strengthen and adapt to new forces while allowing the damaged tissue to heal and regenerate.
What is an ACL tear and how does it occur?
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a strong piece of connective tissue which helps attach the thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia). The ACL provides stability to the knee joint as it prevents the tibia from sliding forward relative to the femur.
ACL tears are a common sporting injury, however they can also occur from everyday activities. The most typical mechanisms of injury are landing awkwardly from a jump, twisting the knee, or suddenly stopping while running. The ACL may also be injured during knee hyperextension, or getting hit on the outside of the knee. Often, other tissues surrounding the knee are also damaged, including the medial collateral ligament, meniscus, joint cartilage and bone surfaces. The ligament can be stretched, partially damaged or completely torn.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Many people report hearing a “pop” in the knee along with immediate pain and swelling. Decreased range of movement of the knee is common and the injured knee is typically unable to take full weight when standing or walking. The knee may also feel unstable, with a sensation of “giving way”. Poor balance and coordination may also be experienced. Smaller tears of the ligament may have only mild symptoms, however, more severe tears will have more significant pain, swelling and instability.
Is surgery necessary?
Traditionally, surgery was thought to be necessary for all full-thickness ACL tears. A series of recent studies have shown however, that outcomes are often the same for people who chose surgery and those who didn’t, both in terms of recovery and future risk of osteoarthritis. Individual circumstances will impact this decision. Elite athletes and cases with additional meniscal tears may do better with surgery. Generally speaking however, with time and full rehabilitation, many people can return to their previous levels of activity without surgery.
How can physiotherapy help?
For both surgical and non-surgical recovery from ACL tears, physiotherapy rehabilitation is essential for a full recovery. Your physiotherapist will assist you with improving your knee range of movement, lower limb strength, balance, stability and coordination. You will re-learn the tasks of walking, using stairs, and negotiating obstacles with retraining of your balance and control.
Early in rehabilitation, the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is used in conjunction with static resistance type exercises to improve muscle contraction in the leg and increase blood flow to the area.
Throughout your rehabilitation program, you will progress through a variety of strength and mobility exercises targeted towards your individual needs, with goals of returning to your favourite sport or hobby as soon and as safely as possible.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common degenerative joint disease that affects many of the joints of the body. The knees are some of the most commonly affected joints, with many people experiencing at least a small degree of osteoarthritis over the age of 40. The disease is characterized by degradation of the cartilage that lines the surfaces of the joint, growth of osteophytes or bony spurs, pain, stiffness and swelling.
What are the symptoms?
Stiffness in the morning, pain with movement, clicking, crepitus, swelling and a generalized reduction in joint range of motion are all common symptoms of osteoarthritis. As OA is a progressive disease, the condition is categorized into stages to help describe symptoms and guide treatment. Early stages of OA may have only mild symptoms, however as the disease progresses or in more severe case, a joint replacement may be required.
What causes it?
While ageing is the most significant risk factor for the development of OA, it’s not an inevitable consequence of growing older. Other factors that may predict the development of OA are obesity, family history, previous joint injury, high impact sporting activities and peripheral neuropathy. It is thought that abnormal wear and tear or stress on the joint is the primary cause of OA. It is also important to note that many people will have changes on X-Ray that show OA, but will have no symptoms – which indicates that simply having OA is not a guarantee of persistent pain.
What is the treatment?
Your physiotherapist is first able to help diagnosis and differentiate OA from other conditions that may have similar symptoms. An X-Ray can confirm the diagnosis and can be helpful in determining the best course of treatment to follow.
While OA is a progressive disorder, there is often a significant improvement that can be made simply by addressing lifestyle factors and any biomechanical factors that may be contributing to pain.
How can physio help?
Your physiotherapist is able to guide you with strengthening exercises to support the joints, advice for adapting your exercise routine and can even help you to lose weight, all of which have been shown to have a positive impact on the symptoms of OA.
If surgery becomes the right course for you, your physiotherapist is able to guide you through this treatment pathway, helping you to prepare and recover from surgery to get the best outcome possible.
Knee pain comes in many forms with many different causes. While treatment for every person and condition will be different in each case, here are a few tips that may help to reduce your knee pain throughout the day.
1. Choose supportive footwear
One of the biggest culprits for ongoing knee pain is wearing unsupportive or high-heeled shoes to work. High heels often lead to tight calves and altered gait patterns, while unsupportive shoes can allow rolling in of the feet, which can then place extra stress on the knee joints. Having an assessment with your physiotherapist to see how your shoes might be affecting your knee pain is a worthwhile investment.
2. Adjust your sleeping position
While most of the time, our knees get a well deserved rest during the night-time hours, there are a few sleeping positions that can place additional stress on the knees. Lying on your side with bent knees can place tension on the outer thigh muscles and the knee joint itself. Try to keep your knees straightened to only 30 degrees of bend and if you sleep on your side, place a pillow underneath the top knee to reduce stress on the joint.
Alternatively, if you sleep on your back it may be helpful to place a pillow under your knees so that they rest in a slightly bent position, to unload the joint. Try experimenting with different pillow arrangements to see which combination works best for you.
3. Avoid sitting or resting too much
When knee pain strikes, your first instinct is probably to get off your feet and stop exercising. The truth is that our knees, like all our joints, are designed for movement and regular exercise helps to keep them healthy. If you are having pain with high impact activities such as running, try switching to swimming and cycling before stopping exercise altogether. Resting in a sitting position for prolonged periods can also place excess stress over the knee cap and knee joint. When sitting for long periods, try to stretch your legs out ahead of you and avoid crossing your legs.
4. Seek physiotherapy treatment
Many of us see putting up with pain as a sign of strength however, a small niggle that is easily treatable can turn into a larger problem if left over time. This may seem like an obvious point, yet the first step to recovery is often just seeking treatment.
Our physiotherapists are happy to discuss your condition with you and share their tips to help you stay pain-free.
What is it?
Our knees are complex hinge joints, designed to provide stability from side to side and smooth movement forwards and back as you walk, kick and run. The patella, or kneecap, is a small bone embedded in the tendon of the quadriceps muscle that protects the knee and also provides extra leverage to the quadriceps, amplifying their strength. The patella moves up and down in a groove at the front of the knee as the knee bends and straightens. Usually this movement is smooth, with little friction, however, if something causes the patella to move in a dysfunctional way, the soft tissue between the kneecap and the knee can become irritated, causing pain in a typical pattern. This condition is often referred to as ‘runner’s knee’, PFJ syndrome or patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).
What causes it?
The patella usually sits in a balanced position in the shallow groove at the front of the knee and moves easily without friction. The patella is attached to the quadriceps muscle at the top and connected to the lower leg via the patella tendon at the bottom. When the quadriceps contracts, this pulls on the patella and acts to straighten the knee. If one side of the quadriceps is stronger or tighter than the other, it can cause the kneecap to pull to one side and over time become irritated.
There can be many factors that cause a muscle imbalance or weakness on one side of the quadriceps. In most people, the outer aspect of the quadriceps tends to be stronger and tighter than the inner muscle.
Certain postures and leg positions require the outer muscles to work harder and the inside muscles to become less active. Lack of arch support in your feet or simply a physical abnormality of the knee can also place stress on the movement of the patella.
What are the symptoms?
This condition is characterized by pain felt on the inside or behind the patella with activities that require repetitive bending of the knee. There may be a sensation of crunching, clicking or grinding and some people report that their knee suddenly gives way. The pain is commonly felt when running, going up and down stairs or when doing squats and is generally relieved with rest. The pain may start as a small niggle and gradually become worse over time.
How can physiotherapy help?
The first step in effective treatment is to exclude any other conditions and have a physiotherapist confirm the diagnosis. Your physiotherapist is able to determine which factors are contributing to this condition, which could include poor posture, a lack of arch support in your feet or poor running technique.
Once these factors have been identified, you will be provided with a specific treatment program to best approach your condition. PFJ syndrome usually responds well to biomechanical analysis and correction of any muscular weakness and imbalance. Having the correct shoes and orthotics can also make a huge difference. There are some short-term treatments, such as patella taping, dry needling, trigger point therapy and ultrasound, which may help alleviate symptoms quickly and keep you active while you address the other factors contributing to your pain.