Running On Soft Surfaces Won’t Prevent Injury Versus Running On Pavement

Running On Soft Surfaces Won’t Prevent Injury Versus Running On Pavement

Running on soft surfaces (like grass or dirt) is supposed to be better for your joints than running on pavement. It makes sense that harder surfaces would be harder on your body, and so this wisdom has been passed down to plenty of runners. Too bad it’s not true.

Photo by Michael Pardo

Dozens of studies have explored the effects of different surfaces on injury rates, and haven’t been able to back up the oft-repeated wisdom. (Some, like this one in Foot and Ankle International, have even found less of certain injuries with hard surfaces.) How is this possible?

Even though your foot hits the ground harder on concrete, your foot and leg muscles adjust your stride to match, as shown by kinematics studies like this one published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Peter Vigneron at Outside summarises:

[B]y subtly changing how we land, our bodies are pretty good at keeping impact forces constant no matter what we’re running on. In layman’s terms, that means most people unconsciously land a little softer when running on hard pavement, and a little harder when running on soft, pine-needle covered trails.

Trail running probably does prevent injury, but for a different reason: you use more muscles, in different positions, when navigating uneven ground. That helps strength and mobility. Read more at the link below, where Vigneron debunks a few more of your cherished running myths.

5 Running Myths Debunked [Outside]


  • This is not really great advice. I’m a runner and I have a back injury from snowboarding. Running on hard surfaces puts a lot of shock into my hips, lower back and flares up my piriformis syndrome and my IT band, due to said back injury.

    So whilst hard surfaces may not be something to avoid for most runners, the softer surfaces are absolutely going to prevent you from injuring, re-injuring or flaring up old injuries.

    The type of surface isn’t going to dictate how every one strikes the ground or how light they are on their toes. Every runner is different.
    This is a survey or a study just ended up in some generalisation which turned out to be bad advice.
    If you are already running, your body will tell you what it doesn’t like. If it hurts to run on the road then injury is very possible.

    If you are looking for other options, there are grass ovals, synthetic Tartan athletics tracks, treadmills with shock absorption decks, beach running.

    – Someone who has injured and re-injured themselves from running on roads.

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!