Running has many health benefits as a form of exercise, but can it also cause harm to certain parts of your body. Your knee joints are susceptible to jarring while you pound out those miles. If you've been running consistently on unforgiving road surfaces, you may begin to feel the impact in your knees. If you experience pain in your knee joints, try changing your running shoes as well as the surface you train on. The softer, varied terrain of trails can provide a cushion for your knees, and you can enjoy the scenery as you run.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly called "runner's knee," is the most common running injury. Your knee joints are put to the test with each step you take on a run, withstanding the pressure of up to eight times your weight. Symptoms of runner's knee typically begin with a pain beneath your kneecap that intensifies when you run. If you experience the pain consistently, consult your doctor. You will likely need to rest your knees, or find alternative surfaces where you can run pain-free.
Trail running provides an alternative to asphalt and concrete surfaces, which can cause undue pressure on your knee joint. Unpaved trails are generally much softer than road surfaces, which means they provide less resistance to your stride. Your feet will sink in slightly when they hit the trail, absorbing some of the force of your step. When your knees experience less pressure, your long distance runs will be much less painful and perhaps even enjoyable.
Changing to a softer, natural terrain can help reduce the impact on your knee, but you should select your running routes carefully. Trails can be made up of a variety of materials, so you may have to do some research to discover which surfaces will best support your run. Many trails are composed of dirt, worn down by the use of other walkers and runners. Such a trail is usually packed own and moderately hard if dry. Other trails through parks may be composed of gravel. If the rocks are small enough, these trails should be safe for running. But larger gravel could cause a twisted ankle.
Additional Benefits of Trail Running
Trail running is good not only for your knees, but for the holistic health of your body. Running is a form of cardio exercise, and as such it works your heart and lungs while exercising major muscles groups such as your legs, arms and core muscles. Trail running allows you to burn calories, which can lead to weight loss. In addition, trail running gets you off the beaten path and into new scenery. When you can enjoy the fresh air and nature around you, you are more likely to go farther, extending your workout for extra health benefits.
Joelle Dedalus began writing professionally for websites such as PugetSoundMagazine.com in 2009. She received her B.A. in English education at Iowa State University and is currently a M.F.A. candidate in creative nonfiction writing at Emerson College in Boston, where she is developing a manuscript on literary travel. Her areas of expertise include travel and literature, the outdoors and the arts.