Do you have an injury that changes and appears to move — one day the inside of your knee hurts, the next day it’s the front below the kneecap, then a few days later it’s your calf? This can feel like a frustrating situation, almost like having injury after injury or, as a client of mine once said, like chasing gremlins around your body.
How do you get a diagnosis when the pain moves like that? One day it seems like a medial collateral ligament problem, the next it’s runners knee, the day after that you’re wondering if it’s actually ITB Syndrome. Each of these conditions has a different treatment strategy, so how do you even get started fixing it if you can’t figure out what it is? Should you treat it like it’s all those injuries? Or wait till it settles into a pattern? Or, worst of all, worry that all the different kinds of pain really are referred from somewhere else, or symptoms of a single deeper problem.
The first thing I recommend you do in a case like this is… rejoice!
Although it’s a bummer to have pain at all, the fact that it moves around like this likely means you actually don’t have an injury.
It is possible to have a great deal of pain without anything actually being damaged. Pain is a signal meant to modify your behavior, not necessarily information about your body. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong — you’re moving in a way that stresses your knee (or whatever area it is that hurts) and your nervous system is sending pain signals to discourage you from keeping it up to prevent your getting injured.
The fact the pain is moving around suggests that your movement patterns are also varying, you’re not stuck in a rut of moving in exactly the same stressful way all the time. It indicates that if you can improve your movement patterns so the knee is no longer being stressed, the pain will likely go away immediately.
This does not mean you can go out and run and when your knee starts to hurt just tell yourself there’s nothing really wrong and tough it through. You will regret that.
It also doesn’t mean you have anything to gain from resting. Odds are good that there’s nothing to heal, and as soon as you return to running you’ll return to moving the same way you currently are, and the pain will come back.
It does mean that you need to keep shifting around how you move and finding more comfortable ways to use your knee until the pain is gone. You can and should do every kind of movement you can find that doesn’t cause pain in your knee. In other words, cross-train. Yoga, cycling, swimming, strength training, zumba, other cool movement classes (aerial yoga anyone?)… you get the idea. Whatever feels completely comfortable to do.
You should also keep switching around your footwear, which will change the stress on your knee.
Meanwhile, avoid harmful “rehabilitation” practices such as:
All of those will slow down your return to running.
This strategy of varying your movement will likely be enough to get you back to running comfortably before too long. If not, then you need a bit more help finding a way to use the knee without stressing it, and that’s what Feldenkrais is for.
After World War Two, Moshe Feldenkrais had a lot of trouble with his knee. He’d hurt it playing football in his youth and aggravated it with all the time he spent on boats working for the British Admiralty during the war. He went to a surgeon to see if knee surgery might solve his problem, and he asked the surgeon what the odds were that he’d be able to walk normally again after the operation. The surgeon told him the odds were 50-50 (this was in the 1950s when knee surgery wasn’t that great). Feldenkrais pointed out that this was no better than the toss of a coin, and declared he was sure he could figure out something more effective.
He did, immersing himself in studies of anatomy, childhood development, and motor learning, ultimately teaching himself to walk normally again. That was the genesis of the Feldenkrais Method.
You don’t have to figure out the Feldenkrais Method from scratch yourself, but if the normal scope of variety you can access isn’t enough to shift you out of pain, check out the options here or find a local practitioner. And get yourself back to running.
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.