Female runners are twice as likely to experience patellofemoral pain (PFP) than men. PFP is one of the most common running injuries that occurs when the thigh bone rubs up against the back of the knee cap.
It takes a while for PFP to kick in, but when it does, it can be so painful that runners have to stop. The pain desists almost immediately, but the long-term effects can have debilitating effects similar to osteoarthritis. Essentially, the rubbing together of the thigh bone and knee cap causes a breakdown in cartilage. If you have weak arch supports and your knees collapse inward when you run or squat, then you’re a likely candidate for PFP.
In a recent study out of Indiana University, Director of the Motion Analysis Research Laboratory Tracy Dierks examined the effects of strengthening the hips in female runners as a way to prevent the onset of PFP. The results show that hip strengthening exercises reduced PFP dramatically and improved the runners’ gaits.
“The results indicate that the strengthening intervention was successful in reducing pain, which corresponded to improved mechanics,” said Dierks, associate professor of physical therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “The leg was going through more motion, suggesting that the (pain) guarding mechanism was reduced, and coordination or control of many of these peak or maximum angles in the leg were improved in that they were getting closer to occurring at the same time.”
This is the first study to study hip strength and gait changes during periods of extended running. Four female runners were tested in relation to another control group of four female runners. These runners were without previous injury and had received no instruction on proper running form.
Over a six-week time period, minute measurements were taken of the motion and rotation of the hips, knees and shins during prolonged running. The participants were also given a set of hip strengthening exercises to perform twice a week for 30 to 45 minutes. These included such exercises as single leg squats with resistance bands.
After the six weeks, increases in joint angles between the foot, shin and thigh were shown, which translates into a significant improvement in the movement between the hips and knees.
Most of these exercises can be performed at home with the aid of a resistance band. Together with single leg squats, lunges, squats and some stretches like Pigeon Pose, try adding these exercises to your routine:
Hip Abductor Exercise – wrap a resistance band around your ankle and make sure it is securely fastened to a fixed object. Standing with feet should-width apart, lift your leg out to the side and repeat for 12-16 reps.
Hip Flexor Exercise – with the resistance band still around your ankle, turn your back to the anchor point and raise your straight leg up in front of you and repeat for 12-16 reps.
Single Leg Raise Squat Combo – standing with feet shoulder-width apart, lift one leg up to a 90-degree angle, then bend the supporting leg to take you down into a single leg squat. Try raising yourself up without bending the extended leg. Repeat for 12 reps, then switch legs.
Skater’s Lunge – standing with feet shoulder-width apart and one foot on a small towel, slide that leg out to the side, bending the opposite leg down into a lunge. Repeat for 12 reps, then switch legs.
Indiana University. “Stronger hips improved running mechanics, lessened knee pain, research finds.” ScienceDaily, 2 Jun. 2011. Web. 7 Jun. 2011.