Carpe Diem, The Series: Listen to Your Body

Paul Stevens

We live in a marvellous time.  I’m not blind, and recognize that we have our modern day challenges. But, on the positive side, our access to information is staggering.  Pretty much everything you need to know is at your fingertips and you only need to move them across a computer keyboard.  This is the result of that wonder of technology we call the Internet. Something that wasn’t even a twinkle in our collective eye not too many years ago.

Need a recipe for that special meal?  Check it out on the Internet.  A household repair has you baffled?  There are probably numerous You Tube videos to walk you through it, step by step.  Anything and everything is there, and generally is good quality.  The mere fact that people take the time and effort to post this stuff without a thought of making money is incredible.  I’m not missing the irony here in that you are reading this article because of the Internet.

Your Body Will Tell You Things

So, recently I was dealing with some knee pain to a level that I had not experienced before. Being reluctant to visit the doctor, and only as a last resort (even though we have fine public health service in Canada), I checked out the Internet to try to get a handle on what was going on.  Reading through a few articles, I confirmed what I had suspected. I had a classic case of ‘Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome’ commonly called ‘Runners Knee’.  It would not surprise me if many of you have experienced this very common ailment.  You feel a sharp pain just behind the patella (knee cap), that makes simple things like going up and down stairs an interesting effort and going down tends to be more difficult than going up as you are putting a lot of pressure on your knee.

From the Internet, I learned that the pain is the result of irritation of the tissue behind the knee cap where it rests on the femur, your thighbone.  I had been experiencing modest discomfort with this for the last few weeks of our hockey season but it would be gone in a day so I didn’t give it a second thought.  Getting on the bike for recently extended rides seemed to be the culprit in terms of elevating the discomfort level so some further attention was warranted, hence the Internet search. 

What Causes Runners Knee

In a million years or so, the knee joint may morph to something better. But, in the meantime, we’ll have to deal with what we have.  From our friendly Internet, I discovered that the irritation is usually caused by the kneecap not tracking properly against the femur so its misalignment causes pain.  I guess I should consider myself fortunate as I have not had any serious knee injuries from playing sports or otherwise.  I have experienced a few tweaks here and there but nothing that required anything more than some rest, a bit if ice, and an anti-inflammatory or two.

Reading further, the misalignment is often the result of a muscle imbalance between the large quadriceps muscles on the front of your legs and the hamstrings at the back.  Thinking about my activities, this made perfect sense.  Jogging with the pooch will work the quads nicely but not much action for the hammies.  Ditto for riding the bike and to a greater extent since it’s usually for a longer period of time and pushing hard for speed or climbing hills can really work you quads while the hammies are largely just going along for the ride. 

With the problem apparently identified, the next mission was to fix it.  Let me preface this by clearly noting that I am not a medical expert by any means and that I would be trying the suggested Internet remedies as cursory fixes only. If the problem was to persist, I would consult with an expert to determine if anything else was going on with the joint that needed expert attention. 

Runners Knee

Fixing My Runners Knee

The Internet gave me a number of exercises that can be done in the comfort of the home to work the hamstrings while putting no pressure on the knee.  Doing these movements will help build the hammies and keep the kneecap in proper alignment.  Easy enough so I had nothing to lose by trying this out.  I kept myself off the bike for a few days while doing the suggested exercises. I found the one that worked best for me were the reverse leg curls; basically lie face down on the floor and raise your lower legs up.  I have an old school weight bench that allowed me to do this with light weights so I could feel the hamstrings working immediately.  After just a couple of days doing this, the knee pain dissipated and I was able to resume my cycling with no discomfort. 

Upon completion of a few recent rides,  I would the spend more time stretching out and doing the reverse leg curls to ensure that my hammies received a bit of a workout as well.  If you are a cyclist and have clip-in pedals, another simple remedy is to pull up as you pedal rather than always pushing down.  Pulling up will work the hammies directly while the traditional stroke of pushing down will fire up the quads.  Pulling up on a regular basis also have the added benefit of giving the quads a break. This will leave them ready for that next burst of required speed. Or yield some extra strength while heading up a hill.

Other Techniques

Another effective technique suggested for helping work the hammies is to incorporate some sprints into your jogging if you are able. The sprinting motion will cause your hamstrings to become more involved in the running effort, something that they do not do to the same extent when doing a casual jog. So far so good in terms of relieving the discomfort but it is certainly something that I will continue to work on to avoid or at least limit future issues.

Again, please note that I’m just relaying information provided by the Internet. I’m not the expert and I most certainly don’t purport to be one.  As said above, my mission was to try the suggested remedies.  If they worked, great.  If not, I would seek out some medical advice so that I’m no doing some serious damage. 

With things seemingly back in decent order, I have been able to join my fellow Manditos for another couple of longer, yet comfortable rides around our area.  We’re typically on the road for about two hours, starting around 9 a.m.  This means that after a refreshment, I’m back at the homestead around noon and ready for the remainder of a workday or tend to household chores as the case may be.  It’s been almost a week with no knee discomfort and my fingers are crossed that this trend continues.  I have a couple of long rides planned, each in the 100K range, one being a funder raiser for a charity, and I want to enjoy them both.

Your friend, Paul.

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