Are you one of the more than 10.5 million Americans who like to run on a regular basis? If so, you may have found that it can take a toll on your knees, making it harder to enjoy the activity you so love.
Many people find running addictive for a number of reasons. It helps manage weight and all of the illnesses that can come with excess weight. Beyond this, regular runners find the sport calls out to them, giving them a sense of joy, freedom, and space. Often, running provides alone time for oneself, away from the stresses of the world.
But running can also be problematic for the knees. Even without a specific injury, runners often develop problems from overuse, weak thigh muscles, and repeated shock from hard surfaces. Symptoms may include pain in the knee, particularly behind the kneecap; this pain is often worse when bending the knee or going downhill, and the pain can be accompanied by swelling, creating further discomfort.
Ayurveda looks at runner’s knees as an imbalance of vata in the joints, which is the air and space quality. What this means is that there's an excess of the dry, rough, cold, light, mobile qualities. If your vata is imbalanced, you may also notice other symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, difficulty focusing, constipation, cold hands and feet, and dry skin. Ayurveda’s approach to balancing the vata proposes that you use remedies with the opposite qualities: warm, grounding, nourishing, hydrating, moisturizing, soothing and stabilizing.
Here are five Ayurvedic tips that incorporate these rejuvenating qualities for your knees:
1. Lubricate your knees.
To keep the knees functioning optimally, Ayurveda is big on the use of oils to nourish and lubricate. Oils infused with specific herbs for the joints — like Boswellia, Guggulu and Ashwagandha — make for a soothing application that supports joint comfort and range of motion. This is a critical rejuvenative process in Ayurveda when there's stress on the joints. You can use a lighter balm on a regular basis, and when you have the time, a massage with an herbalized oil will really make a difference in your joint and muscle recovery.
2. Strengthen your thigh muscles.
The thigh muscles support and protect the knee joint. It's often the wear and tear on the ligaments and tendons attached to the knee joint that causes knee pain, specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings and buttocks. Traditional exercises like leg lifts, wall squats, and step climbing can be useful to strengthen these muscles. Yoga can also provide strength and flexibility to these muscles through poses such as Chair, Warrior 1 and 2, Revolved Triangle, and Eagle pose; try holding these poses for a comfortable length of time to experience their benefits. Not only will yoga help improve your physical health, but you'll find the added benefit of increasing your awareness, which can come in handy when running to keep proper form and breath.
3. Eat a joint-healthy diet.
To alleviate the stresses of running, Ayurveda recommends some key diet tips that help replenish the joints. First, add a small amount of clarified butter (ghee) or healthy oil (like coconut oil) to your food, as it's important to provide the body the building blocks to lubricate the joints from the inside, just as you did from the outside in Tip #1. Eat foods that are warm, fresh, and cooked — soups and stir fries are great for this, and if you use greens like kale, collards, and turnip greens, you also get the benefit of calcium. Finally, there is the list of what to avoid. Generally, avoid dry, cold, rough foods as they increase the dry, erosive quality that can affect joints. Specifically, avoid nightshade veggies like potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers.
4. Flush toxins from the system.
How? The body gets rid of toxins through wastes. The channel that often gets clogged is the colon, and people forget that constipation isn’t just a nuisance. It actually has drastic impacts on your health. When these toxins build up, they cause irritation and inflammation in the joints. So drink plenty of water and eat plenty of greens with fiber. If that’s not enough, add a psyllium fiber supplement or an herbal rejuvenative like Triphala that nourishes the tissues while maintaining healthy bowel movements.
5. Take herbal supplements that support the joints.
There are some very powerful traditional Ayurvedic herbs that are known to support healthy joints, providing strength and rejuvenation. Among the most popular of these are Guggulu, Boswellia, Ashwagandha, and common kitchen spices like turmeric and ginger. These warming herbs are used in Ayurveda to nourish the joint, alleviate discomfort, and cleanse natural toxins, allowing for comfortable and smooth movement.