Have you ever wondered if the ground you run or walk on affects your joints? With each stride you take, your joints are subjected to impact shocks from the floor. Harsh inclines and declines can also put a huge strain on your joints, too! All surfaces naturally have their pros and cons, but some are certainly easier on your body than others. Here’s a summary of the impact different surfaces have on your joints, ranked from worst to best…
The advantages and disadvantages of different surfaces for your joints
At first thought, this even surface seems harmless enough. The level terrain makes walking or running smoother and decreases the chance of tripping. That said, hardened surfaces like concrete can cause serious joint issues to the hips, knees and ankles. This is because the solid ground doesn’t absorb any of the shock. Instead, our joints and muscles take on all the impact.
Sand is an extremely soft and unstable surface. When running or walking on it, you're more prone to injuries like twisted ankles. Plus, if the sand is sloped, it’ll cause uneven stress on the rest of the body, too, which can cause joint strain and stiffness.
Tarmac and asphalt
Paved asphalt or tarmac tend to be more even and soft than most running surfaces, so they’ll put less strain on joints and tissues like the Achilles Tendon. But they can really aggravate the shins. Just like on concrete, these surfaces don’t fully absorb all the shock as your feet hit the floor.
Going up and down hills doesn’t actually use any extra muscles. Plus, it comes with a host of benefits, such as endurance building, increasing strength, improving form and boosting speed. However, the inclines and declines mean our muscles and joints have to work much harder than usual.
Grass has a low impact on our joints thanks to its soft, fluffy form. Its bumpy and irregular nature also helps with leg strength, as they have to work harder to keep us level. On the other hand, this unevenness can cause muscle strain and the ground can be slippery when wet, which means it can be a trip hazard. The sudden jarring when slipping or falling can really put a strain on your joints.
The biggest advantage of walking and running on a treadmill is that it’s a completely even surface, meaning there’s no risk of finding yourself on uneven ground or tripping on a rock! Also, the built-in cushioning lowers the force on your legs, sparing your joints.
Unsurprisingly, rubber running tracks are arguably the best surfaces to walk, jog or run on. They cause less stress to your joints than asphalt and sand. The surface is much softer and more even, plus there’s a lack of inclines – all of which are better for your joint health. However, the swooping curves can cause added strain on the hips and knees.
The best surface to walk, jog and run on
As far as the joints are concerned, most surfaces have advantages and disadvantages. You’ll need to figure out which one works best for you, your body and the activity you’re doing. We’d recommend mixing it up every now and then. Opt for a variety of surfaces to keep walks and runs interesting, and to build up strength in a variety of different muscles and joints.
The importance of good footwear
When it comes to avoiding joint stiffness or injury, the right footwear is essential. You should always choose proper sports-specific trainers that absorb impact and support your joints. A decent pair of running shoes will not only cushion your feet, but they can also offer arch support, help to prevent injuries and even increase athletic performance. Remember, you should always buy the right size and fit for your feet!