Return to running after a knee injury

return to running

It goes without saying that we’re always keeping an ear to the ground for new developments in the field of knee injury rehabilitation, so a new report from the University of Kent has piqued our interest – especially as it could be a breakthrough for athletes who have recovered from a knee injury, but are struggling to get over psychological barriers that stand between them and getting back on the field.

In a report published in Physical Therapy in Sport titled ‘Return to running following knee osteochondral repair using an anti-gravity treadmill’, Dr Karen Hambly – a knee rehab expert who specialises in helping athletes who have been given the all-clear to resume sporting activities but may have concerns about moving from being a patient with a knee injury to being an athlete again – has explained how a graduated return to running using an anti-gravity treadmill can help to reduce fears about re-injury, and increase the athlete’s self-belief in being able to run on the injured knee.

How does walking on the Moon help return to running?

The case report focuses upon a 39-year-old female endurance runner and spells out the regime she undertook from the end of her post-knee surgery rehabilitation to taking part in her sport again, which involved an eight-week programme designed by Dr Hambly which incorporated the use of an anti-gravity treadmill.

The treadmill – which can be adjusted to reduce the body weight of the client from 100 per cent to a mere 20 per cent, which is a precise simulation of what it would be like to walk on the moon – is designed to reduce the load on the joints in the lower limbs. This means that not only is the client given the opportunity to ease their joints back into the swing of running with no chance of re-injury, but it also offers a vital psychological boost as the pressure is reduced over time.

While this is a potential breakthrough in the field of sports rehab, it goes without saying that anti-gravity treadmills are still thin on the ground – and walking holidays on the Moon aren’t an option. But there are still plenty of options available for the post-rehab athlete who still isn’t ready to trust putting their full weight on their joints.

Post-injury rehab: have a plan, and stick to it

You may not know it, but by being leery of returning to your sport, you’ve already won half the battle for a successful rehab – because you already know that it’s going to take a while before you’re back to peak fitness. The key here is to maximise what you can do during this period – and ensure you get the support system you need.

What you’re looking to achieve here is a graded return, by finding a level that you can manage at the moment and creating a manageable route map that will allow you to progress back to full fitness at your own pace without risking setbacks.

The first thing to do before starting on this road is to get the injured knee checked out. There should be full range of movement in the joints surrounding the affected area with no risk of instability, no swelling, and – ideally – you should be pain-free. From there, you can start the rehab process. This article from Running Physio is a great overview of what you should be doing – and what you need to avoid.