Should I Run on Hard Surfaces?
Just like there is a lot of confusion out there regarding the effects of cycling on knees, there is a lot of unfounded fear regarding running on loose surfaces or running on pavement.
Both cycling and running can be extremely great for your knees provided you don’t go overboard with it. And too much of anything is a bad idea any way.
While it’s true that most professional and recreational runners train on firm surfaces, there is no reason for non-athletes like you and me to refrain from running on paved roads.
Running on pavement helps improve stride rate and stride length. This will allow you to cover more distance with the same effort, which will result in greater endurance and aerobic capacity.
It also has a positive effect on the joints by strengthening the muscles of the legs without the additional pressure on the joints that occur when running on an uneven terrain.
There are however a few precautions you need to take whenever you decide to start running on a harder surface.
Avoid running on concrete or asphalt for a week or two if you have previously been used to running on softer surfaces.
Make sure you are wearing proper running shoes and take it slow.
If you encounter knee pains after running on street, you should get the knees checked out by a medical professional.
Why Running on Hard Surfaces is Okay
Running is one of the most common forms of cardio and low-impact exercise. For this reason, most runners dread the thought of having to run on concrete or pavement. But a lot of runners have heard horror stories of runners whose knees gave out and they never ran again.
Sure, this form of cardio is hard on the joints especially the knees. The tension that is generated when you run on an uneven surface is very high, and studies have shown that these forces can be up to three times higher on concrete or pavement compared to running on a track.
But this is true for running on any kind of hard surface.
It doesn’t matter if you are running on sand, dirt, concrete, or pavement, the forces that are being exerted on your knees are going to be there no matter how hard or soft the surface is. So if you want to reduce the amount of joint stress on your knees, take special care while running on hard surfaces.
Why You Should Avoid Running on Hard Surfaces
One of the factors that most often contributes to knee injuries is running on hard surfaces. You may have heard some athletes say that the harder a surface, the more force it transmits and therefore the better the strength training effect.
While this is true, the amount of stress and number and intensity of knee injuries sustained from running on hard surfaces can be very high, which outweighs the positive effects. Ideally, it is best to train on a soft surface where the impact of every step is evenly distributed.
How hard could a soft surface be?
A soft surface becomes hard when you build up too much muscle tension, which you do when you are under stress and nervous, or you have been fighting a losing battle with a bout of knee pain. There are some who advise that it is best not to worry about the surface at all and to concentrate on relaxation and correct running form instead. However, if your knee pain is severe and you are unable to relax, running on harder surfaces may seem like the only option you have left.
Disadvantages of Hard Surfaces and Impact-Related Knee Injuries
Even if you have built up muscles so strong that you can run on a hard surface, or you are running relaxed on a soft surface, it is still a bad idea. Running on hard surfaces makes the shock dissipate by flexing your knees, which leads to knee pain.
Other Tips to Prevent Knee Pain
Some research suggests that running on soft surfaces like grass and dirt, instead of pavement or concrete, may reduce the risk of running related knee injuries. However, not all types of pavement are alike or have the same effect on your knees.
In fact, one study found that a softer surface actually increased tissue damage to the meniscus, while a very hard surface, such as concrete, reduced it. So, it’s not all about soft vs. hard surfaces.
Softer surfaces may lead to less damage to your knee because of the extra shock absorption. However, you’ll want to watch your step on soft ground – it’s easier for your foot to get stuck in a hole or hit something on softer surfaces.
Pavement has a higher coefficient of friction, which results in a more stable knee. This actually translates into increased loading on the knee, which can result in stress fractures.
So to come back to your question, is running on pavement or concrete bad for your knees? The answer is a bit more complex than the question. If youâ??re just beginning your running career, start off on a softer surface. It may help prevent knee pain over the long run. And, if you have knee pain while running, talk with your doctor about other ways to recover and prevent future knee pain.
Wear the Right Running Shoes
Pavement running will cause more damage to your knees than the same distance run on a softer surface, such as grass, dirt, or a wood chip trail. Even running on a softer surface near roads also has its risks, as most trails run by roads are packed with sand, salt, and gravel from all of the passing road traffic.
It’s a more reliable predictor of knee joint problems to look at the time of year that you run. Health experts, such as the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, agree that generally, the months when the ground is frozen solid (December to March) are bad months for runners, because the increase in weight from the cold air also decreases knee joint lubrication. The solution is to run on grass when you can during the winter.
If you choose to run on asphalt, make sure that your shoes have been designed for road running. There are many different types of sports shoes and it can take a bit of research to find the right ones for you.
Make sure the shoe fits properly, as both heel and forefoot running put a lot of stress on the joints. Improper shoe wear is one of the most common causes of knee pain. The most important thing is to have a pair of shoes that are designed for your purpose.
Improve Your Running Form
The best way that an individual can take control over pain when running is to pay attention to running form. If you are running correctly, you can greatly reduce the amount of impact that your body has to deal with.
When you are running, set your watch to beep every five minutes. When the watch beeps, check your form for the last five minutes. You do not need to stop and check your form at each beep.
The goal is to take stock of your form over time.
When running, your head should be up and looking forward, not down. The head up position will make you able to avoid objects on the ground and obstacles so that you can run to avoid them.
You should always try to be on the balls of your feet when you are running. By doing this, your body is in a better position to react to changes.
It is also important to have your feet underneath you so that your feet, hips, and ankles can generate the most amount of power when you are taking off.
Most people have the tendency to over stride. This is when the person is reaching out too far with their feet. This is often due to a lack of flexibility, but a lot of people also do it accidentally. This can cause a lot of excessive impact on your legs and knees.
Strengthen Your Quads and Hamstrings
No matter how long or how often you have been running, your quad and hamstring muscles won’t have enough strength and endurance without some attention. Quadriceps and hamstring muscles are used not only during running – you use them even when you’re walking, doing just about anything, and especially everyday jobs such as yard work. So it’s always a good idea to make sure that they can handle the load.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, many runners find it challenging to strengthen their upper leg muscles. This is mainly because of the common misconception that this can only be done in the gym with weights. For example, some runners think that squats are a good quad and hamstring conditioner and that’s about it.
The fact is that there are many exercises that you can do from home or during your daily walks and runs that you can tailor to target specific muscle groups.
Cut Back on Running Mileage
Aligned properly, your knee should never have direct contact with the pavement or concrete when you are running. At the same time, it should never be completely off the ground.
When your knee completely leaves contact with the ground (such as when running on soft sand or grass), you are at a higher risk for damage.
When your knee makes contact with the pavement, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It's the angle of impact with the ground that causes the most problems.
Running on hard surfaces may put less stress on your body compared to running on softer surfaces. Due to the increased impact, you will have to slow your gait a bit and run a bit more upright, which keeps your knees in line and in a better position to absorb impact safely, according to a report by the American Council on Exercise.
When to reduce running mileage: When you drastically increase your running mileage without properly interval training, it can lead to chronic knee pain and cartilage problems. It can also hinder your endurance levels. When your knees feel stiff when you are not running, or if you experience shin splints, are having more knee pain than normal, or are unable to reach your usual distance you should expect to slow down a bit.
If any of these symptoms continue on more than a few days, it may be time to cut your running mileage back to prevent any further injury.
Do More Cross-Training
The problem with running on concrete is that it can take a toll on your body over time. If you run on concrete a lot, you are likely to develop knee injuries like runner’s knee. But, the pain can also come from other joints.
In fact, shinsplints, pain in the lower legs and hip problems are also common in those who run exclusively on concrete.
But the problem with running on concrete is not just the knee. It can cause a lot of damage in your body, including your mind.
If you run on a track, you can stay in one place and run over a short distance a lot of times, which may not have any negative impact on your body.
But for those who run on the street, it always has the potential to overwork some parts, especially knees and hips.
So you can notice pain more quickly as you run more often on concrete. And eventually, it can have a negative impact on your running career.
The best advice about running on concrete is to run as little as possible. Instead, do some other activities.
If you must run on concrete, you can try some of these to protect your knees:
- Wear some proper sport shoes
- Wear a knee brace
- Run with a more upright posture
So there you have it, folks!
Your complete guide on how to protect your knees.
Whether you are a marathon runner or a casual runner, you need to take the necessary precautions to ensure that your knees are always in the best shape possible.
The guide walks you through the most important aspects of knees and how to tackle them.
So armed with the knowledge from this post, you are well equipped to make the right decision for your knees and running well into your senior years.
Now it’s time to stop worrying about your knees and running and get out there to pound those pavement.
Your only regret should be that you didn’t start running sooner!