The Scourge of Women Athletes—Especially Runners
The hot spot: The knee (patella)
The problem: There's been a boom in running in the past 20 years, led increasingly by women, who now make up 56 percent of all road race finishers (up from 25 percent in 1990). And what many of these 8 million-plus road warriors are starting to realize (ouch!) is that because they are female, they are more vulnerable to knee pain. "Women have wider pelvises and smaller ligaments, which causes them to be slightly knock-kneed compared to men," says Daniel F. O'Neill, MD, EdD, a New Hampshire-based orthopedic surgeon and the author of Knee Surgery: The Essential Guide to Total Knee Recovery. That can put additional stress on the knee when running, which increases the risk of tendinitis and stress fractures.
The potential pain: Sixty to seventy percent of us will experience patellofemoral pain (or dull pain in the kneecap that can eventually become debilitating) at some point in our life, says O'Neill, most commonly due to arthritis and overuse.
The pre-hab: O'Neill says that the front of the knee is a difficult area to stretch, so people usually neglect it—until soreness sets in. This move gets at the knee as well as the quad and hip flexor: Step forward with your right leg into a low lunge. Slowly lower your left knee to the ground (the top of your left foot should also be on the ground). Step the right foot forward another couple of inches so that the back leg looks more curved than bent at a sharp angle. Push the left hip down until you feel mild tension; breathe into the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg.