Can your knees run a marathon?

Sandeep Chauhan

On Sunday April 15, some 20,000 people will take part in the Brighton Marathon. Running 26 miles is the ultimate test of fitness and determination, but do your knees pay the price? We asked Sandeep Chauhan, a local Orthopaedic surgeon with a specialist interest in knees, for his opinion.

“Physical activity is key to a happy, healthy life and running is one of the most popular ways to keep fit. But as with all physical activity, if you don’t listen to or adequately prepare your body, you run the risk of damaging it. I am sure this won’t be the case with the Brighton Marathon competitors – they will undoubtedly have put in hours of training to ensure their best performance and to reach the finishing line in one piece.

That said, the knees are one of the most vulnerable parts of a runner’s body so pain and injuries to them are not uncommon. If you think about it, they are constantly moving under the opposing pressures of your body weight and the hard ground – not surprising that they sometimes hurt!

Runner’s knee

There is a condition called “runner’s knee” or, to give it its medical name, “Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome”. This usually comes on when you run, particularly after a certain distance when you are really pushing yourself, so while you might be fine for a 5K run, a marathon would leave you limping. Some people also find it hurts when going up and down stairs or sitting in one position for too long. Runner’s knee doesn’t mean you’ve permanently damaged your joints - it’s thought that the pain you experience is the result of bruising to the underside of your patella (kneecap) where the tendon joins the bone.

Reducing your training and applying ice will help the pain and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen can also be effective. Try to reduce the amount of running you do on concrete as it’s very unforgiving – your knees will thank you for runs on grass, asphalt or dirt tracks. There are also corrective exercises you can do to strengthen your leg muscles and seeing a good physiotherapist is worth its weight in gold. Ensure that your running shoes have been professionally fitted. The Run Shop or Jog Shop are both excellent for this. Usually runner’s knee will resolve itself with a bit of TLC but occasionally physiotherapy is given with much success.

Whether your problem is runner’s knee or not, if you don’t see any improvement with your self-administered therapies after a few days, then you should seek medical advice. Your GP or physiotherapist is a good place to start but they may refer you to a specialist who will diagnose, treat, and more importantly, help you determine the cause of your injury to prevent a recurrence. If you have severe pain in a joint or bone, significant swelling that doesn’t go down, numbness or tingling or can’t move your limb, then you need to see a doctor soon.

Best of luck to the runners in the Brighton Marathon – I hope you have a great race!