For many of us, running is much more than an attempt to lose weight or stay in shape; a lot of us enjoy a run to disconnect from the daily stresses of life and enjoy a bit of fresh air and scenic views.
Whatever be our objective, a significant deterrent in the enjoyment of running, especially for beginners, is injuries. It has been reported in various studies that approximately 60 percent of runners sustain overuse injuries every year. The repeated impact experienced during ground contact can reach a force two to three times the body weight and is considered to be a major cause of overuse damages such as stress fractures and patellofemoral pain syndrome, commonly called the runner’s knee.1 Runners can lessen this impact by using the correct running form, wearing the right footwear, and taking adequate rest. Another important factor that could prevent injuries is choosing the right terrain to run on.
Different Types of Running Surfaces
You can choose the terrain depending on its easy availability and your comfort. If you don’t want to move out of your comfort zone right at the beginning, you could run on the concrete sidewalk outside your house or on the asphalt road beside it. If you have a park nearby, you could jog on its grassy ground. Or you could even go to a synthetic running track. Take a look at the pros and cons of each terrain to find the one that suits you best.
The rubber running track strikes the perfect balance between softness and sturdiness. It is forgiving to your joints and muscles and provides them with adequate support. One of the downsides of running on a track is the monotony of running around in circles.
Grass, with its soft, low-impact surface is, if you go by popular choice, one of the best surfaces to run on. While it is great to prevent impact-related injuries, one of the cons of running on grass is the uneven surface, which, if you are not careful, could lead to injuries like twisted ankles. So you need to stay aware of the ground directly in front of you.
In all probability, this is your most convenient and safe option, and it requires you to get just a good pair of footwear with cushioning to ease the stress on your joints and muscles. But being one of the hardest surfaces to run on, the concrete sidewalk causes great impact forces on your joints and muscles, which could lead to more injuries in the long run.
If you are confident that you can stay vigilant all the time for traffic and potholes, asphalt is a good choice. This smooth and sturdy surface protects you from injuring your Achilles tendon and is easier on your muscles and joints than concrete.
Which Is The Best Running Surface For Our Feet?
The pressure on the bottom surface of the foot, called the plantar surface, often indicates the chances of injuries—this is called the plantar load, and the higher the load, the higher the chances of getting an injury. A comparative study on the plantar loads associated with running on different surfaces suggested that patients with injuries in their legs may benefit from the reduction in plantar loads.2 It also inferred that if you are returning to normal activities after a leg injury, it’s best for you to run on treadmill rather than on grass or concrete because even the maximum plantar pressure it offers is lower than that offered by ground surfaces.
Beginners also should choose a terrain that offers less plantar pressure. A study that analyzed the plantar pressure of running on concrete, synthetic rubber, and grass surfaces concluded that running on natural grass showed a lower maximum plantar pressure compared to the other surfaces.3
Another study concluded that running on natural grass lowers the in-shoe plantar pressures in recreational runners, which reduces the total stress on the muscles, tissues, and bones compared with that suffered when running on more rigid surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete.4
These studies seem to concur with the popular consensus that natural grass is the best surface to run on, especially for beginners as it reduces the stress on muscles and joints and prevent impact-related injuries.
Does Speed Matter?
But another study suggests that there are no statistically significant force changes when you run on concrete, synthetic track, natural grass, a normal treadmill, and a treadmill equipped with an ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) cushioning underlay at the speed of 12 km/h (3.3 m/s).
One study on the plantar pressure at different velocities of running made elite hockey players run forward in a straight line on concrete and a sports synthetic surface (SSS) at the different velocities of 3.3 m/s and 5 m/s. When the subjects were running at 5.0 m/s, the shock to their shin bones were significantly greater on concrete than on SSS. However, no such differences were observed when the subjects ran at 3.3 m/s.5
Evidently, not only does the terrain matter but also the speed with which you are running on it. Running at a moderate pace would have a similar impact on your muscles and joints on any terrain, but as the pace increases, harder surfaces would put more pressure on your body. Besides looking out for a low-impact surface and controlling your speed, you should remember to change surfaces regularly so that you can exercise different muscles and eventually not let the terrain be a deterrent.
|↑1||Fu, Weijie, Ying Fang, David Ming Shuo Liu, Lin Wang, Sicong Ren, and Yu Liu.Surface Effects on In-shoe Plantar Pressure and Tibial Impact during Running. ScienceDirect. December 2015. Accessed August 02, 2016.|
|↑2||Hong, Youlian, Lin Wang, Jing Xian Li, and Ji He Zhou. “Comparison of plantar loads during treadmill and overground running.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 15, no. 6 (2012): 554-560.|
|↑3||Wang, Lin, Youlian Hong, Jing-Xian Li, and Ji-He Zhou. “Comparison of plantar loads during running on different overground surfaces.” Research in sports medicine 20, no. 2 (2012): 75-85.|
|↑4||Tessutti, Vitor, Ana Paula Ribeiro, Francis Trombini-Souza, and Isabel CN Sacco. “Attenuation of foot pressure during running on four different surfaces: asphalt, concrete, rubber, and natural grass.” Journal of sports sciences 30, no. 14 (2012): 1545-1550.|
|↑5||Greenhalgh, Andrew, Jonathan Sinclair, Andrew Leat, and Nachiappan Chockalingam. “Influence of footwear choice, velocity and surfaces on tibial accelerations experienced by field hockey participants during running.” Footwear Science 4, no. 3 (2012): 213-219.|