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Is Running on Concrete Good or Bad for You: The Truth is Out

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A passionate runner will continue to run, regardless of the weather and terrain. This is probably true for all professional athletes and runners who don’t let these variables disturb their running routine. However, running on different terrain may affect individual runners differently. While some runners prefer running on concrete, others may be happy while running on grass or dirt tracks.

Many runners tend to overlook the impact of the running surface on their body and style of running. This is, in part, because of the fact that an average runner tends to rung on a variety of surfaces, ranging from the treadmill to the beach.

This is why the absolute effects of running on the hard surface may not be perceptible to many. The effect of running on surfaces like concrete has long been debated.

In order to understand the effects of running on concrete, one has to understand the difference between concrete surface and other surfaces.

Before asking ourselves if it is OK to run on a hard surface, let us look at some of the surfaces that are commonly used for running practice.

Where Do You Run: Running on Different Terrain

running on road
Running: Check the Terrain

Running on different terrain and surfaces provides a break from monotonous running. Here are the most common surfaces on which runners work out and practice, with their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Grass

Who hasn’t run on flat grasslands like parks, sports fields, and golf courses? The grass is usually the first walking and running surface for everyone, and it remains the most popular running surface among runners. If the grass is properly cut and dry, it is perhaps the best running surface.

However, if it is wet, running on grass may be a problem because of the risk of slipping.

Dirt trails

A lot of natural surfaces in the countryside belong to this category. This surface, like grass, isn’t too hard and ideal for running when it is dry. Uneven wetting of these trails increases the risk of slipping and falling.

Concrete

We all find people running and jogging on the roads. This is because concrete surfaces are most easily found in cities where a large majority of runners live. Therefore, running on a concrete surface is common. Because of its hardness, the runner might experience a harder impact on the feet.

Check and Find Out the Key Difference Between Running and Jogging

Treadmill

Yes, we have all run on the treadmill some time or the other, especially when the weather didn’t permit us to step outside. Although running on the treadmill gives your feet a reasonably soft and comfortable surface, most people prefer to get out and run with a good view.

Also, treadmills don’t come for free, unlike other natural surfaces.

Check out Running on Treadmill vs. Outside: Which One is Better

Sand

Sand is among the softest running surfaces for athletes. Running on sand gives a fair amount of exercise to many leg and thigh muscles, and running on the beach has the advantage of beautiful views.

However, it poses a higher risk of ankle and foot injury, especially if you run barefoot (which is very tempting).

Check out Man-made Shoes or Nature-made Soles? Barefoot Running Demystified!

Tracks

Runners who are targeting a particular speed or tournament usually run on running tracks. This surface has the advantage of being uniformly smooth/ hard and has a known length. Therefore, it is easy to count how far you ran.

However, this surface has unnatural turns and long curves, that put undue pressure on the ankles and knees.

Check out about Ankle Strengthening Exercises for Firm Ankles: A must for Runners

Those of you, who have run a fair deal on a variety of surfaces, do you feel any difference between these surfaces?

Does a particular surface make the run more pleasurable than the rest?

Do you feel especially tired or worn out after running on a particular surface?

Researchers have been trying to find out the one surface that is universally accepted as the best. But they haven’t been able to reach a conclusion because of mixed responses from runners.

This is why runners are extremely confused regarding the effect of running on concrete on their health and fitness. While some reports claim that there is a clear link between running on hard surfaces and the rate of injury in runners, many contradicting reports also exist.

Which kind of reports should you believe?

Check out all about 5 Running Injuries Every Runner Should Know About!

How Does Running on Concrete Affect Your Body

Concrete surfaces are pretty uniform in thickness and hardness when they are cast fresh. However, with time, concrete surfaces and pavements can develop cracks, eroded spots, and weak zones. This affects their thickness as well.

Therefore, running on pavement that is old and worn out can be a very different experience from running on a new pavement.

Experts have the opinion that all runners who want to pursue running on concrete should invest in high-quality running shoes that offer high cushioning. This is because when you put your foot on a concrete surface, the force, combined with the hardness of concrete, can cause an injury by reducing oxygen supply to the blood vessels.

Know Your Feet: How to Buy Different Types of Running Shoes

Also, shin splints from walking on concrete are pretty common, if the force is too high.

In a detailed study performed in 2010, runners were made to wear special insoles that could measure the force and pressure when the feet hit the surface while running. The results clearly indicated that the pressure exerted while running on grass is up to 12 % lesser than the pressure created when running on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete.

Check about Shoe Insoles - A Quick Guide for Your Feet: Choose Right!

This higher pressure may get evolved into a persistent pain while running.

running on concrete
Wearing Insoles might help

Correlation Between Knee Pain and Running on Concrete

It is unfair to blame knee pain entirely on concrete surfaces because all runners experience knee pain at some point of time.

However, it has been found that runners who practice predominantly on a hard surface, like concrete, have a higher chance of experiencing recurring knee pain. Therefore, it is important to understand the correlation between knee pain and running on the concrete surface.

When you run, you bring down your foot on the running surface with a force. This foot impacts the surface and the hardness of the surface decides the degree of this impact. Running on concrete compresses cartilage and bone, and sends the shockwaves to the lower limbs. While an occasional incidence is very well tolerated by the body and muscles of a trained runner, it can become a problem if done continuously.

Your knees are surrounded by a cushioning buffer, known as the meniscus. This cushion is made of soft connective tissue and prevents the thigh bone and the lower limb bone from hitting each other during walking and running. Runners especially rely on their meniscus because of its shock absorption function. Every time they hit a hard surface, some impact reaches their meniscus.

A tear in the meniscus manifests itself in the form of a sharp knee pain. This can be a result of continuous wear and tear due to running on concrete or other hard surfaces. If not treated in the beginning, this pain can lead to more serious and chronic pain of the knee and can be strong enough to force you to take a break from running.

Check all about Running Injuries: Runner's Knee Treatment and Prevention

How is Running on Concrete Different Than Running on Softer Surfaces

Since it is clear that the hardness of a running surface is directly proportional to the force it will exert on the foot, softer surfaces get the advantage of being more forgiving. This is also because softer running surface gives your feet more time to adjust on the surface.

This extra time allows the foot to distribute the pressure uniformly all across the area in contact and allows the muscles of the hip region and knees to brace for impact.

However, every surface that is soft need not necessarily prevent running injuries and pain. As briefly discussed above, sand is among the softest running surfaces, yet, many runners get injured while running on sand because it is unstable.

This lack of stability tends to increase the chances of ankle or heel injury.

Know all about How to Keep Your Fitness Intact by Running on the Beach

Also, running on sand requires more work from the body as it needs a lot more force to lift the foot off sand, thereby creating a scope for injuries to occur.

Running on Concrete - The Final Verdict

Running on Concrete is Different
Running Injuries - Recovery is essential

The body of human beings, much like other animals was created for running on a variety of terrain. Regardless of your running surface, you will encounter some kind of running injury.

Therefore, running on concrete or other hard surfaces cannot be held responsible for your running injuries.

What is important, is to recover from any running injury completely before hitting the road again.

The following reasons illustrate why running on concrete and other hard surfaces are not as bad as it is made out to be.

  1. Our bodies are designed to withstand shocks from running and jogging. If this hadn’t been the case, we wouldn’t really be able to run or jog. Our body is shaped perfectly for pursuing running on all surfaces. With proper running shoes and a lot of practice, you will be able to run on concrete or any other surface with ease.
  2. If you are truly passionate about running, you are probably devoting enough time for practicing. Also, it is assumed that you are watching your dietary intake. With these two parameters in place, there is no real reason to panic about running on concrete. Regular practice and a good diet are vital factors that determine the resilience of your body to withstand any shock that might happen during running.
  3. If you are worried after reading reports about hard surfaces being the culprits behind running injuries, you should also read those reports that have clearly established that impact forces are not a direct determinant of injuries. The link between these two is very weak.
  4. There is no reason for you to blindly believe what people tell you regarding their negative experience about running on concrete. Every runner is different and every runner’s running style is different. You should not conclude anything until you give it a try yourself.
  5. In any case, a pre-existing injury should be allowed to heal completely before you resume or start running on concrete or any other hard surface. The hardness of concrete give too much back force to your feet and make your injury worse. Therefore, you should wait for the green signal from your physiotherapist or trainer.

It is true that concrete is among the hardest running surface known to man. However, the human body is amazing and can withstand routine shocks of running on concrete.

However, if you continue running on a hard surface like concrete for a long period of time, the defenses of the body might start wearing. Therefore, it is advisable to take an occasional break for hard surface and give other running surfaces a try.

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