Knee Pain for Triathletes, Endurance Athletes and Runners

by : Shawn Baldwin

There are obviously a thousand reasons that a triathlete may be having a knee problem that impacts their triathlon training and a short article on knee issues couldn't possibly cover all of them. Having said that I can discuss my own knee problem which was occurring on runs where 10-15 minutes into the run the outside of my knees would start to hurt A LOT. I had guessed at the time that it was an IT band problem. Basically the iliotibial band, or IT Band, is a fibrous band, kind of like a rubber band, that stretches from your hip to your knee on the outside of your leg. As a quick side note, I have heard conflicting reports on whether it is a "thick" or "thin" band. This is important because if you ice it when it hurts and it is in fact a thin band then you could be increasing the likelihood it could freeze and subsequently rupture when you move after freezing. Therefore, just be careful when taking care of it unless you are certain of its ability to handle the freezing. I know using terms such as thick or thin is relative but it's important for you to be aware of the potential issue.

Triathlon training provides some alternatives within the training that allows for a variety in training for Triathletes. This training variety allowed me some options that allowed for continued training while avoiding pain. The first step to recovery was to bike and swim more. I began to focus on stretching as well and having a better warm-up that did NOT include walking or jogging. For example, I would hop on a bike for 30 minutes, and then go for a run, if that wasn't an option then I would wear a tensor style flexible knee brace (sleeve) during the run so that my tendons and ligaments around my knee what remain warm. Both of those things did the trick as far as allowing me to continue running while training. However, the problem wasn't going away and I didn't want to continue along that path. Most importantly I didn't want to have to rely on the knee sleeve for the rest of my life. Luckily for me Christmas rolled around. My new training plan hadn't kicked in yet with a Jan. 1 start date. I had a ton of family obligations and my motivation for the couple of weeks surrounding Christmas was low. I didn't run once for 3 weeks. The New Year rolled around and off I went for a run incorporating a new minimal warm-up plan (walking for a few minutes before the run) and I planned on a good stretch after. Waddya know... no pain. It's obvious I needed the recovery. Now that I have had the rest and trained correctly I have been knee pain free for over a year now.

I have since learned a couple of reasons beyond stretching that may have contributed to my knee problem. One is that I ran on a track 1-2 times per week almost always in the same direction. The other is that when I ran outside I would always run in the same direction over the same route. The problem is that on a track the corners place added pressure on the outside knee. That continued pressure will strain the muscles and eventually cause a muscle imbalance. Running outdoors causes a similar problem. Roads and sidewalks are marginally slanted for drainage. You don't really notice it but if you run for an hour along a subtle sideways slant you will create muscle problems and imbalances. The answer? Go slowly around track corners and change directions whether inside or out.