Case Study – Knee Pain and The Over-Strider

This week I want to simply acknowledge the success one of my clients. Back in early March a VERY frustrated guy came in for an assessment session. He'd always been a good athlete – a successful bodybuilder, even - and had switched to endurance training recently. In the fall he completed a half-ironman distance triathlon. The transformation from bulky bodybuilder to lean aerobic machine was complete. Except for one thing. Persistent knee pain. After a few miles he would be reduced to a walk. For an experienced athlete - or anybody who's motivated, really - this was a crippling reality. Not being able to do what you love is cruel to say the least.

As I guided him through my assessment protocol I couldn't help but scratch my head. The guy was actually moving better than 90% of the people I've screened. Every time I checked for mobility, he had it. Stability? Yep, had that, too.

We walked outside and videotaped his running form. I was so focused on capturing the footage that I didn't really pay attention to what was happening as he ran. We walked back inside to examine the footage.

Now, at this point I was honestly scratching my head and I was about to learn a valuable lesson. Most of the time someone with chronic knee pain will present with either a lack of mobility in their ankles or hips or a lack of stability at the spine, hips, or feet. Yet, in him, every one of those things was perfect.

Was it his training? Was he training too much? Perhaps, but his mileage was reasonable for the amount of experience he had and I trusted his triathlon coach.

So, what the heck? Good movement fundamentals, reasonable training plan, no medical/injury history, what else could it be?

As we watched the video, I came to the conclusion that the ONLY possibility for knee pain was somewhere in his running technique. Everything else had checked out.

Sure, enough, the answer was that he was over-striding with the best of 'em. His heel was hitting the ground first. That's not a HUGE deal, but here's the key: the heel was well out in front of his center of mass.

If you read my post from a few weeks ago you'll know that the decision to completely overhaul someone's running technique is not a simple decision. But in his case, it was the only option.

Well, I just thought I'd share with you what has happened since that cold, dark day in March. The following is an unedited personal email that was sent to me following the Philly Triathlon, his goal race. Can you just feel the emotion in his message?

Dear John!

I wanted to provide you with some feedback!

So since we last met, I have been doing exactly what you advised and prescribed! Rolling, stretching, running, followed my more rolling and stretching. Calf raises during the day at work and swim days… I also purchased sneakers with minimal drop, as well as work shoes with minimal drop.

I was still hesitant because my knee was still sore while running 2-3 times a week. Starting with a few city blocks, up to 1 mile... I never broke 3 miles only b/c I was really taking it easy and NOT trying to overdo it and tweak anything else while my legs/body were adjusting to this new 'form'.

I really concentrated hard on the new form, visualizing my foot meeting the ground where it is supposed to and not compromising 'the quality for quantity"! I was more concerned with the quality and doing it right, than the distance and speed. I am, and was, 100% confident that will come if I do what's right, and hang in there.

It is certainly an adjustment on the calves and quads! They often tired quickly, but I knew all along that was a good thing. That tiredness was less each time I ran. I could feel myself getting stronger and any knee pain disappearing! I was up to approx 3-3.5 miles PAIN FREE with my new form.

Going into Sunday I was confident my swim was "good" my bike was "strong" but I was really nervous about the run. I knew I would and could do it, I was just worried about how long my calves and legs could hold on.

My goal was to run as fast as I could, without ever resorting back to the 'old' form. I decided to wear my Newton's, b/c I really like the feel of being able to hit the sweet spot. I thought they may help if I get tired or wear down towards the end. I got off on the run, felt GREAT, no pain, form felt great and I never slowed or looked back. In fact, I got stronger as I went! Not sure if you saw my time but I did a 44:44 (7:12 Pace) and it FELT AWESOME, every stride, every step!

I just wanted to say THANKS again for your help! I look forward to longer faster runs in my future, but again, I'll be patient and concentrate on the quality as I go, increasing speed and distance accordingly.

Sincerely Thank you!

You saved & reinvented my "running" life! WATCH OUT!!

Nate Allison

Well, Nate, you earned it. You showed patience, listened to your body and did your homework. While some people just try to change their form, they forget that it is a comprehensive process. You need to wear those flat shoes during your day, work on the tissue quality of your calves (etc), and stretch gently, but religiously. But dude, I would be lying if I said I expected you to rock that run split as fast as you did!! Gees, WAY TO GO!

So, to wrap up, I just thought I'd share a story from a fellow runner who just wanted to enjoy running again. I'm happy to report that it's possible!

Have a safe, great Fourth of July!