How I Overcame My Battle with Runner's Knee


Week 8 of my half-marathon training and mile 7 into Saturday's long run. That's when a dull, but all-too-familiar ache creeped up in my right knee. It wasn't the kind of pain that turned me into a sobbing mess, but the much more evil, ticking time-bomb kind. And upon that realization, I knew that my half-marathon goals would be crushed by a dreaded case of Runner's Knee if I didn't do something drastic.

What is Runner's Knee?

We've all heard of it before and we've all had our own self-diagnosis for it, but what exactly is this crippling injury that haunts even the most seasoned runners? According to Dr. Douglas Bradberry of Green Apple Sports and Wellness here in Charlotte, "Runner's Knee" refers to a group of overuse injuries that cause knee pain. And according to him, the first step is to figure out which tissue is hurting you.

After a quick assessment, Dr. Bradberry had a feeling that my particular case was quad tendonitis, or in laymen's terms, damage or inflammation to the tendon connecting my knee to my quad muscle. Unfortunately he suspected the root cause of this injury was overuse, therefore the obvious solution was to stop using it so much... (the haunting words that no athlete ever wants to hear).

But thank goodness Dr. Bradberry was realistic with his expectations, since he knew I was training for a half-marathon. Therefore, his quick-fix recommendations were:

  1. Don't run 2 consecutive days in a row. You want to allow the tissue to recover after each run.

  2. Epsom salt baths can help calm down the tissue.

  3. Stretch frequently to improve the mobility of the quad. This will relieve pressure off of the tendon. A massage stick will also be helpful.

  4. Rebuild the quads with isometric holds. For example, do 3 sets of wall sits, 3-4 days a week.

Air Squat

Air Squat

The Struggle is Real

Now I know I'm not the only stubborn runner out there who has taken a doctor's orders and simply pocketed them for future use. And I certainly know I'm not the only one who has pushed past the pain, hoping the injury magically will go away. Because we all have race goals for our running seasons that are simply too big to be put on pause for an achy knee.

Well, if any of you can relate to my perseverance, you know that by ignoring a doctor's advice I was making the worst mistake possible for healing. As much as I hoped and prayed, injuries don't just simply go away. And if you don't pump the brakes, they can get even worse, causing long-term damage.

So sure enough, as I kept running on my injury, I noticed the pain would creep up even sooner into my runs and would be so much greater each time. I even got to a point where I experienced the crippling pain after a mere 3 miles. So what did I do? I wrapped it in a Pro-Tec strap, swallowed a handful of turmeric, and promised my knee I would treat it to a Bengay massage after each run.

Unfortunately this temporary fix wasn't enough to bring my knee back to health and restore my confidence of tackling the two remaining long runs left in my 12-week training. In fact, I was completely ready to throw in the towel on my half-marathon dreams. But in a last-ditch effort, I reached for an old roll of KT Tape hiding in the bottom of my gym bag and googled how to tape a runner's knee. I spent that Friday night before my 11-mile run mummifying my old-lady knee in bright purple tape.

KT Tape

KT Tape

The results? I made it an incredible 8 miles into the run without feeling an ounce of pain. Around the 8.5 mile mark, a mild ache started to creep up, so I doubled-up my armor and strapped my Pro-Tec band on top of the KT Tape. After that, I pretty much had the knee of a knight: limited mobility but completely invincible.

I took this same plan to the Charlotte Half-Marathon a few weeks later and sure enough, I was able to breeze through 13.1 miles without a peep coming from my knee. And you know what? I even managed to take home a PR time! 😊

So do I recommend my technique for overcoming Runner's Knee? Not at all. But truth be told, sometimes we simply don't have luxury of taking a knee to heal a knee. Considering that recovery from this condition can take weeks or even months, sometimes we aren't willing to put our dreams on hold. But even though I beat the system with this desperate trick, know that the best remedy for Runner's Knee will always be that dreaded four-letter word: REST.

Wall Sit Image by Matt Vivanco Photography.