Guide to Running Surfaces to Help Prevent Foot Problems

Posted by Dr. Brian Nagy on June 22, 2017

shoes running on asphaltWhether you're a beginner or seasoned runner, you want to get the most out of your training while doing everything you can to prevent ankle injury or any other kind of foot problems. You probably already know which shoes to wear, and how to stretch before and after your run. But do you know what kind of running surface is right for you? While this is ultimately an individual choice, there are a few pros and cons concerning various running surfaces you should consider.

Running on Hard Surfaces

You might think that harder surfaces are harder on your body and always pose the greatest risk of foot problems for runners. But according to the Institutes for Foot Health (IFH), there are numerous factors associated with the risk of foot and ankle injuries to runners.

Large-scale studies of running surfaces are difficult to conduct because those recruited for study would have to run on only one surface for extended periods of time. Despite the lack of studies, trainers know that the best surface to run on is not just one; an alternating variety of surfaces, locations and weather conditions will help you win races. 

  • Tar and Asphalt.  One good thing about running on asphalt is that most competitive races are run on asphalt! If you train on asphalt, the race track will be more comfortable for you, and you'll be at your best on race day. Asphalt is also usually pretty close to home, if not right outside your door, and it's not quite as hard as concrete.

    Negative aspects of running on asphalt include the risk of overpronation. This inward turning of your foot can eventually cause severe foot and ankle problems. If you typically run on the same asphalt street every day, alternate the direction you run or switch to the other side of the road.

  • Exercise Machines. The best thing about running on a treadmill is obvious - it's convenient! There's no running in the rain or uncomfortable temperatures. Beware, though, that these positives are also negatives.

    It could be raining or very hot on the day of the race, and you need to be ready to run in any weather. That said, it's fine to run on a treadmill every so often, especially if you use it to change your slope and track your vitals.
     
  • Cement/Concrete. Running on a sidewalk trail in a public park is pleasant. Furthermore, it's an even surface that enables you to increase your speed.

    However, it has the highest impact of force on your feet and body. Your body can adapt to different levels of impact, but it still takes a toll when you run on hard surfaces and concrete is the hardest. 

Running on Soft Surfaces

Contrary to popular belief, soft surfaces are not necessarily "safer" for runners. Exercise physiologist and avid runner Dr. Tanaka recently told the New York Times there is no definitive research available proving soft surfaces are better than hard ones for runners. In fact, if you're running on a previously injured foot, grassy trails are even more likely to cause foot problems due to the uneven nature of the ground.  

  • Beach Running. Combining your training with your vacation at the beach is an excellent idea - early morning beach runs are more appealing than running to or home from work. Plus, sand puts less impact on your body than hard surfaces do. 

    It's good practice to train on a variety of surfaces, including on the sand alongside the ocean, but beware of the risks. Running on sand can cause plantar fasciitis, knee sprains, hairline fractures, sprains of the ankle ligaments, tendonitis, and other foot problems. 

  • Dirt Tracks. Some experts recommend as many as half of your training runs be on dirt trails. Your body has to push harder on a dirt track, and that's good for building strength.

    The negative aspects of running on dirt trails are associated with their unevenness and unpredictability. Risks include slipping on stones or branches and rolling your ankles. 

Although scientific research is behind when it comes to determining which running surface is the best, it's widely accepted that you should train on a variety of hard and soft surfaces. However, it's also common knowledge that running can lead to various foot and ankle injuries ranging from mild to extremely serious.

Your caring New Hampshire podiatrist can answer any questions you may have associated with running and potential foot problems.

If you're experiencing any kind of foot or ankle pain, contact a New Hampshire podiatrist at Nagy Footcare today! It's our privilege to serve you, and we are committed to earning your trust and exceeding your expectations. At Nagy Footcare, our best day is when you wake up with no foot pain.

5 Reasons Runner Shouldn't Ignore Their Foot Pain- eBook

Topics: Running

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