Top training tips to prevent patellar tendonitis in runners
So, let's kick this article off by taking a quick look at what happens to your body when you exercise and how this impacts your injury risk.
How exercise makes us stronger
The trigger - Micro-injuries
Our bodies sustain micro-injuries whenever we exercise (walk, run, strength train, etc.). These micro-injuries affect all of our tissues and are the important first step in how exercise makes us stronger.
The number of micro-injuries that occur depends on how used our bodies are to that type, intensity, and volume of exercise.
Your body will typically experience more microdamage if:
- It's a new type of exercise
- It's a much harder training session than what you're used to
The patellar tendon specifically takes more strain during hill running and sprint sessions.
The reaction - Repair and strengthen
While running is the part of training we most enjoy, it's actually what you do in the hours after a run that determines your training gains.
Your body uses the recovery period after a run to repair the micro-injuries. But it doesn't just fix the damage. Your brain also wants to avoid future damage, so it gives orders to make that area of your body more robust than before.
As a result, your body (muscles, tendons, bones, etc.) slowly grows stronger over time.
This micro-injury repair cycle has a compounding effect on your strength and endurance, making you stronger and fitter over time.
This is why an experienced runner, who has consistently trained for several years, can usually handle a much higher training load than a novice.
How micro-injuries can lead to patellar tendonitis
The training errors that lead to overuse injuries like patellar tendonitis boil down to one of two things:
- Not prioritizing recovery - the micro-injuries accumulate if the post-exercise repair cycle can't be completed
- Increasing training volume or intensity too quickly - may cause excessive microdamage.
You can find a more detailed discussion about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of patellar tendonitis here.
Our top tips for preventing patellar tendonitis
1. Use a running plan that's tailored to you
A running plan can be an excellent tool to ensure you achieve your goals and avoid overtraining. But only if it's designed around your specific training habits, strength, and endurance.
If the plan requires you to suddenly run a lot more miles, more frequently, or do more high-intensity workouts than what you're used to, it will likely lead to an injury.
A running plan can help prevent patellar tendonitis but only if it's tailored to you
The Exakt Health app's Running Injury Prevention Plan covers all these elements (strength, flexibility, control). We've also included advice to help you understand and manage the other areas of injury prevention, such as scheduling training and recovery methods.
2. Frequently assess your recovery
Wouldn't it be nice if there was a recipe we could follow that guaranteed 100% recovery after every workout?
Maybe one day we'll have a gizmo that tells you if you train this hard, rest for x hours, and eat y food, and you'll be ready to go. But for now, because so many factors impact it, recovery remains an (educated) guessing game.
So, the best we can do is try to get the basics right and look out for signs that perhaps our bodies are tired and not fully recovered.
Five signs that your body needs more recovery
If you notice any of these signs, take action!
You can improve your recovery by doing the following:
- Eating enough of the right foods (balanced diet) - your body can only repair if you provide it with the correct building blocks
- Getting enough sleep
- If you're a new runner, avoid training every day (running challenges are great for getting injured!) - your body will need quite a few months or even years of consistent training to build the capacity to handle daily training loads
- Leaving at least 48 hours of recovery time after high-intensity training sessions
- Building a recovery week into your training (usually every 4 weeks) where you drop your training volume and intensity significantly (by 20% or more) to allow your body to catch up on repairs that might be lagging behind
- Taking steps to manage your stress levels (work and personal) - chronic stress fatigues both body and mind
On paper, these tips seem pretty simple. But as runners, we know that balancing training, recovery, social life, family time, and work can get tricky in practice.
If you want help figuring out the best training schedule, what exercises to include in your injury prevention plan, and how to progress them safely, check out the Exakt Health app.