Barefoot Running & Knee Pain: A Runner's Story

8th June 2012
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Here’s a great testimonial from one of our clients who used barefoot running to overcome on-going patella tendinopathy, which he had in both knees. This is a condition that affects the tendon just below your knee cap, and like all ‘tendinopathies’ can often have a tendency to last for a long time! When i met Glenn he’d had the pain for about a year and was desperate to be able to run again. Thanks for sharing your story Glenn, and well done!

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Hi, I’m Glenn, I’m 48 and I’m a runner. I haven’t always been a runner. In my youth I liked to run then I had 25 years when I didn’t like to run, but over the last two years I have rediscovered my inner runner.
It’s not been easy, it’s not been without pain and at times I have doubted whether I can. It all started, as is often the case with middle aged men, with the need to lose weight. I started going to the gym, 10 minutes on the treadmill, eventually getting up to 30 minutes and feeling really rather pleased with myself. Then I took myself outdoors and steadily increased my running until I was doing 7 miles. I was feeling really very pleased now! Through a friend I learned there were races I could do, so off I went and did my first 10k.

Next I started taking my running a little more seriously, looking at different shoes and having a gait analysis. I was told I over pronate so i got some shoes to correct for this.
It was around this time, only about 4 months into my running that I started feeling pain in my knees. A sharp pain in the outside of my knee, which I put down to the shoes. So I changed back to a neutral shoe telling myself it wasn’t a problem when I over-pronated as a kid. I also started to notice a small amount of discomfort at the top of my shin. I was advised I needed to do some new exercises to strengthen around my knee, so I did. Over time the discomfort became pain.

It’s around this time I heard about a book, got my Kindle out and downloaded ‘Born to Run’. I thought I’d seen the light, I’d lose the shoes and go barefoot! It had to be the way to go! But I wasn’t quite brave enough to completely lose the shoes so I got a pair of ‘barefoot shoes’. Rather stupidly I thought all I needed to do was put these shoes on, tell myself not to heel strike and I’ll be ‘Barefoot Glenn’. I did say “stupidly” and of course this resulted in big blisters, very sore calfs and time off from running!! Every little stone on every stride hurt, “how does anyone run without shoes?” I was asking myself. So I got a pair of trail barefoot shoes, and still felt every stone on every stride!!

I didn’t realise at the time, but my technique was all wrong. The pain in my knees continued and got worse. Instead of just having the pain while i was running, it would now linger on afterwards and on rest days. Over a few months this stayed longer and longer until I could only run twice a week, at most. Each time I ran I was running in pain.

Eventually I sort help from a sports physio, patella teninopathy, ‘tendonitis’ was the verdict. More exercises to do, and I kept running. It wasn’t going away so I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be a barefoot runner after all, I decided I must need padded soft running shoes! So I went and got some new shoes, not one pair but two, one for the roads and one for trails. After another couple of months of painful running I went to see an orthopaedic doctor and was told to rest for 8 weeks, no running at all. And yet more exercises and stretches to do, twice a day! Like a good boy I did what I was told. Nearing the end of the 8 weeks I had another gait analysis. Interestingly, this time I wasn’t over-pronating. Two more pairs of shoes (neutral shoes this time), one for the roads and one for trails. Then after the all clear with the doc, back on the treadmill, ten minutes later my patella tendonitis is back. A few days rest, back on the treadmill, no joy, the knees were still hurting!

Would I ever be able to run? I was having serious doubts.

Then I saw there was going to be a barefoot running seminar by a Physiotherapist, Louise Nicholettos (Cornwall Physio). I went along, listened intently, and booked to have a 1:1 coaching session with Lou. I felt i was in good hands as Lou is both a Barefoot Running coach and a Physiotherapist. First she assessed my knees again to confirm the diagnosis and double-checked that i didn’t have anything more serious going on. She also tested how much exercise my knees could tolerate and did lots of flexibility and strength tests. She gave me some new rehab exercises and assessed my running technique. She found some issues with my technique that really tied in with why i’d been getting this particular knee pain, things started to make a lot more sense!

I had lots of technique demonstrations, drills and mobility exercises and by the end of the session i could run with correct technique. I took my new found optimism, my new rehab plan and my barefoot training plan and off i went! I was away at sea for the next five weeks so all i had was the treadmill to practice on. I ran mostly barefoot, some with VIVOBAREFOOT shoes. I steadily increased my time and speed. Now i was going beyond 10 minutes and still no knee pain, up to an hour and no pain. After the 5 weeks i was back on dry land again, out running and still no pain, even going downhill! As long as I keep my technique right (which does falter a little as I get tired towards the end of a run), everything is good.

I’ve just had a second barefoot coaching session with Lou and a little fine tuning of my technique- i was still over-striding just slightly but otherwise i was looking good! My plan now is to continue running in barefoot shoes and to also add some more outdoor barefoot running!

So after two years of running and seven pairs of shoes I’m now running pain free. It’s a miracle.. or is it? It really does seem that when it comes to running, technique is everything. And, as for shoes… perhaps less really is more!? I’m Glenn, I’m 48, and I’m a barefoot runner.

[divider] To find out more about Barefoot Running Coaching with Cornwall Physio click here

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