When you become a runner, certain parts of your body that never used to hurt before can start hurting, leaving you wondering why. One of those places is your knees. In this article, we’ll cover everything that you need to know about knee pain.
We’ll discuss knee pain and running on hard surfaces, specifically concrete and pavement, and whether or not you should run on them as well as other tips to help prevent knee pain. By the end, you should have a game plan for dealing with any knee pain you might experience.
Should I Run on Hard Surfaces?
The short answer is maybe. In reality, the answer isn’t clear whether or not you should run on hard surfaces like concrete, pavement, and asphalt, so we’ll look at the pros and cons on each side.
For some people, especially as they get older, hard surfaces can get more uncomfortable, but you might not experience that as much if you’re a younger runner.
Why Running on Hard Surfaces is Okay
Running on hard surfaces shouldn’t be a problem from one perspective because humans have built-in shock absorption when running. It doesn’t come from the great shoes you have although you’ll see the phrase “shock absorption” all over Google in relation to shoes.
One set of researchers found that cushioning in running shoes had dropped by ⅓ after 150 miles of load bearing, meaning that the shock absorption predominantly comes from somewhere else—you!
Within the first step, runners make adjustments to new surfaces, meaning that we’re great at adjusting our shock absorption to account for different surfaces.
Additionally, as is often the case with injuries, proper running form makes all the difference. If your running form isn’t good, this can impact knee injuries more than the surface itself. So, you might want to check your form first before avoiding hard surfaces. You might solve your problem.
Why You Should Avoid Running on Hard Surfaces
There is more joint impact when you run on hard surfaces. For example, one study found that the peak pressure, or the greatest amount of pressure on the foot, was about 12 percent higher on asphalt than on grass. And that’s asphalt—concrete is even harder.
Additionally, even if your running form is good and the joint impact is minimal on hard surfaces for you, they just feel more painful, which is why it’s better to take a cautious approach to running on them.
Finally, softer surfaces increase ground contact time, meaning that your body can better redistribute the impact. This is true for all softer surfaces from grass to sand, but the latter is in its own category.
While sand is considered a softer surface and is the least impactful surface, it is more challenging to run on because it’s so unstable.
Instead of having a flat surface that is more firm like grass, the sand absorbs a lot of the force when you push down in a running stride, meaning that it’s going to be harder to pick your foot back up and it can be hard for your foot and ankle to stay stable.
Other Tips to Prevent Knee Pain
Since the evidence isn’t completely clear as to whether you’ll get knee pain from running on hard surfaces like concrete or pavement, there are some other ways to help prevent knee pain besides just bidding hard surfaces farewell.
Wear the Right Running Shoes
The shoe can make all the difference. Evidence suggests that knee pain from hard surfaces may be more likely for some runners than others. For that reason, it’s important to wear the right running shoes for your gait and stride.
If you tend to land hard on your feet, you might consider getting a pair of shoes that is known for being springy or has extra cushion to help you absorb the shock. It likely won’t benefit you as much as changing your running form, but it’s definitely a good start.
Improve Your Running Form
One of the best things you can do to help prevent injuries, including more than just knee pain, is to make sure that you’re executing proper running form. Take short strides and land on the ball of your feet. This way you aren’t overexerting yourself and straining your body, including your knees.
Another thing you might consider is running more gently. If you take “pounding the pavement” literally, tone it down a little bit and see if that helps with your knee pain. Being less aggressive should definitely help your knees feel better.
Strengthen Quads and Hamstrings
Injuries come from overuse and/or weak muscles and joints, so the best thing you can do is strengthen them. Because your quads help to keep your kneecap in place, you need strong quads in order to absorb impact in your knees better.
That’s why strengthening your quads and hamstrings will help your knees feel better as well as make you a stronger and faster runner. You can do exercises like walking lunges, mountain climbers, and squats to strengthen these muscles.
Cut Back on Running Mileage
If you’re doing too much and putting too much stress on your knees, you might just need to take a step back and give your knees a break. Cut back on your running mileage and see if that makes a difference.
It could be that your knees are overworked, and you need some time to rest and recuperate as well as strengthening them. During this time, make the most of the miles that you do run, and there’s a good chance that you’ll see benefits from running less and cutting out the junk miles.
Do More Cross-Training
Finally, doing more cross-training whether it’s in addition to your normal running routine or if it’s to substitute for mileage that you dropped down will help you stay active and work your muscles but not in the same high-impact way of running.
This is the time to pick up your bike and go for a ride or jump into the pool and go for a swim or even do aqua jogging! You’ll especially want to try activities that are non-weight-bearing and are low-impact to give your knees a break.
In the end, depending on your form and physique, running on concrete, pavement, or other hard surfaces may be bad on your knees. However, instead of focusing on this, we’d recommend focusing on what you can change: your form, shoes, training, etc.
You’re likely going to be better off adding in more runs on a variety of surfaces in addition to mitigating knee pain in other ways as opposed to cutting out running on hard surfaces entirely. But that’s something for you to figure out to see what works best for you personally!