Jogging will tone the muscles in your legs, burn a truckload of calories and move your cardiovascular fitness to a new level. These benefits come fairly quickly after you take up jogging, but they don't come cheap. Chances are virtually 100 percent that you'll incur some kind of knee injury at some point in your running life, especially if you're like most Americans and do the bulk of your jogging on asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks.
The terms runner's knee, patellofemoral syndrome, and chondromalacia patella all refer to the same thing -- pain felt under the kneecap, or patella. This very common problem results from an improper positioning of the patella as it slides over the end of the femur, or thigh bone, during flexion of the knee. Rest, anti-inflammatory drugs and icing offer short-term relief. Exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscles can help prevent a recurrence because stronger quads ensure a proper positioning of the patella.
The menisci are C-shaped structures consisting of an especially tough kind of cartilage called fibrocartilage. They lie within the knee joint between the bottom of the thighbone and the top of the shinbone and serve as shock absorbers. Injury to the menisci can be traumatic, as with a torsion injury, or degenerative, as in an aging jogger. Signs of a tear include swelling, pain and a locking sensation,. Recovery from a meniscal tear is slow because the blood supply to the menisci is poor, but rest, ice, compression and elevation of the knee can all help.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial band, or ITB, is a sheath of tissue running from the top of the hip to the outside aspect of the knee. Its function is assisting in straightening the leg at the knee and abducting the leg at the hip. If you run on cambered roads -- that is, roads with a crown that slope downward from the center to allow water to run off -- you are at greater risk for incurring an ITB injury, which is recognizable by the sharp and sudden onset of pain on the outside of the knee. To prevent ITB syndrome, avoid running too many hills or laps in the same direction on a track in addition to staying away from cambered roads.
Alternatives to Asphalt
If you live in an urban area, avoiding paved surfaces may be difficult. But if your knees are bothering you, it's worth taking some serious measures to alleviate the pounding. You can run short loops around the grass or dirt perimeter of a park; as boring as this may seem, it beats being sidelined. If you can afford a gym membership and have the time to visit often, the deck of a treadmill is far softer than even the most forgiving asphalt surface. Also, don't forget to replace your shoes every 400 to 500 miles or so.