The Next Marathon: How To Start Training After Knee Surgery

Many runners put off going to an orthopedist because they are secretly afraid that they might have to take a break from running or, even worse, stop running altogether. Most instances of runner's knee can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation along with physical therapy and special braces. For those of you who have to undergo surgery to restore the cartilage in your knee or fix an alignment of your patella, there will be a recovery period when you cannot run and your doctor may suggest permanent changes to your exercise schedule, but most runners can start running again within six months of surgery. 

Start Slow 

If you are an experienced runner, it can be difficult to run at a slower pace or accumulate less milage after an injury. However, it is important that you take it slow for the first few months after you are approved to start running again. Consider training for a 5k run as opposed to a half marathon. Your goal should be to rebuild a strong base and strengthen the muscles around your knee while allowing your physical therapist and orthopedist to monitor your progress.

This may mean you only get a single run per week in the beginning as you will have to wait to see if the activity causes inflammation or pain. Try to take your time on these runs and enjoy them, as they mean you are headed toward recovery. 

Cross Train 

One of the best things injured runners can do is increase their cross training, especially with low impact activities such as swimming. This will keep your cardiovascular health up without exacerbating your injury. It can also help you satisfy your craving for physical activity that you can't get from running at the moment. 

Light strength training of the muscles around the knee and yoga are also good ways to decrease the healing time of your injury and get you running sooner. However, you shouldn't stop cross training once you are approved to run longer distances. Adding regular cross training to your routine can improve your overall health and reduce strain on your joints. 

Make Changes 

Surprisingly, researcher's have found that training for long distances does not negatively affect your cartilage. If this is true, why did you suffer an injury that is obviously related to repetitive use? Runner's knee is caused by multiple factors such as your natural gait, the alignment of your patella and ligaments around it, and the surfaces you are running on. Surgery can fix irritated cartilage and adjust your ligaments to help them support your kneecap. However, it is rare that your knee will be as functional as someone's who has never had knee issues.

It is important that you discuss possible changes to you routine with your orthopedist and physical therapist. Some changes might include special running shoes to help with your alignment, therapy to help fix your gait, and a brace to help support your knee. These changes will give you a chance to increase your milage without a second injury. However, if you return to running how you ran before your surgery, it is much more likely that you will suffer a similar or more severe injury.  

Trust Your Doctor 

Each runner's recovery after orthopedic surgery depends on many different factors. You may feel like you are ready to start running sooner than your doctor. You may talk to friends who had similar injuries and started running earlier than you. It is important that you trust your doctor and do not begin increasing your milage until he or she says you are ready. If your doctor is unfamiliar with runners, you may want a second opinion, but keep in mind that your orthopedist has your best interest and overall, longterm health in mind.