The debate over the effects of jogging on your knees mirrors the larger debate over the wisdom of exercising for those with arthritis. Not long ago, doctors advised people with arthritis not to work out, in the belief that additional stress on the joints would further injure cartilage that was already damaged. As it turns out, exercise helps people with arthritis and recent studies find that jogging, with a few caveats, is good for knee cartilage. The old saying, "use it or lose it," has been ratified once again.
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Knee cartilage is technically known as the meniscus. The lateral and medial meniscus are two slabs of cartilage, one on the left and one on the right, separating the femur and the tibia in the knee joint. When the knee cartilage is healthy, it looks like a smooth and slick piece of white rubber, and functions to give the knee joint stability, lubrication and shock absorption. However, it is subject to cracking, tearing and wearing out. If it does, you wind up with osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis, which causes inflammation and pain.
Exercise is Not Bad
The long-term study reported in the Harvard Men's Health Watch finds that those who exercise are no more likely to develop arthritis, or show evidence of arthritis on X-rays, than sedentary people. A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, by researchers at Stanford University, followed a group of long-distance runners and compared their knees against a group of people who did much less exercise -- they also found that those that exercise are not at a higher risk for arthritis. Researchers have concluded, based on these studies, that jogging isn't bad for your knees in most circumstances.
Jogging can be good for your knee cartilage and joints. A Swedish research study -- reviewed online by National Public Radio -- asked one group at risk for knee arthritis to exercise and jog and compared them to similar group that didn't exercise. They found that the biochemistry of cartilage improved in the people who ran. It's speculated by researchers that the impact of running or jogging generates eight times your body weight as an impact on your joints -- this is thought to increase the production of proteins in cartilage that make your bones and joints stronger. Nancy Lane, director the the University of California Davis Center for Healthy Aging, who researches runners and knee problems, says, "If you have a relatively normal knee and you're jogging five to six times a week at a moderate pace, then there's every reason to believe that your joints will remain healthy."
Check with your doctor before beginning a jogging or running program. If you injured a knee or shoulder in the past, you are more likely to develop arthritis, especially if the previous injury required surgery. Other risk factors -- people who run fast as opposed to jogging and people who run marathons -- are more susceptible to cartilage problems and arthritis. If you are more than 20 lbs. overweight, do a fast-paced walk until you lose enough weight to prevent stressing your knee joints. Running with proper form, wearing shoes that help correct for rolling of the feet and taking it slow when you start jogging are also important preserving and strengthening your knee cartilage and surrounding muscles.