Camino de Santiago 2016
Walking the Camino de Santiago – Photo by Red O’Laughlin

My wife and I walked the Camino de Santiago a few months ago. It is a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain. Several days into this trek we came across a young lady crying and unable to move. She was agonizing over the pain she was having in her knees. I thought immediately that it was chondromalacia (runner’s knee).

I asked several questions and discovered that it most likely was. Once of the most definitive questions is that it hurts less climbing/walking uphill and much worse walking/climbing downhill. I’ve had this problem over the years with both knees. I’ve been a runner for decades.

Chondromalacia happens when the cartilage behind the knee cap is damaged. This occurs in many runners because the hamstring muscles in the back of their legs overpower the quadricep muscles in the front of their legs. This uneven balance, over time, pulls the knee cap off to one side. It results in damage to the underside of the knee cap. It can very painful.

The key for long-term treatment is to balance the muscle forces on the front and back of the legs so that the knee cap remains in one place. The short-term solution is to isolate the knee cap so that it does not move. This is easily done by using a knee brace to minimize the movement of the knee cap.

With a knee brace I could run for hours without further injury or pain. Without it, I had trouble walking. I would wear the knee brace for months while I was correcting the strength levels of the major muscle groups in my legs. I was eventually able to run/walk without needing knee braces.

I had brought two rolls of coban wrap (elastic wrap that sticks to itself) with me on the Camino de Santiago in case I had a problem. I asked this young lady if she wanted me to wrap her knee to see if it took some of the pain away. I did. She walked around a little bit and the tears she had now were of absolute joy. She asked me to wrap her other knee and I did. It had been experiencing minor pain compared to her other one.

A couple of miles down the road she passed us. I remarked to my wife that we might not see her again on the trail. We left earlier than most each morning and she passed us briskly each day for the next several days. She had managed to get better knees braces in one of the towns and changed out my coban for a much better option.

She said there were over a hundred people who could not help her that day. I felt honored to be there, at that time, and know what to do, and have the materials on hand to help. Sometimes we are in the right place at the right time.

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