How do different types of surfaces affect running biomechanics and injury risk in athletes?

Running is a common form of exercise enjoyed by many. However, the biomechanics of running – the way our bodies move and interact with the environment – can be influenced by a number of factors. One such factor is the type of surface we’re running on. As runners, it’s crucial for you to be aware of how different surfaces can impact your running style and potentially result in an increased risk of injury. Let’s delve into the effects of various running surfaces on our body.

The Effects of Running on Hard Surfaces

When considering hard surfaces, concrete is usually the first to come to mind. It’s the common choice for city runners and, undoubtedly, the hardest surface you can run on. But how does running on concrete impact the body?

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Running on hard surfaces like concrete can cause a significant amount of impact force on the lower body. This is due to the surface’s lack of shock absorption. The impact is transferred to the legs, particularly the knees and ankles, potentially leading to an increased risk of injury.

According to a study indexed on PubMed, running on hard surfaces results in a higher rate of lower limb injuries, especially stress fractures. Another research article found via Crossref revealed a direct link between running on hard surfaces and an increase in knee joint stiffness. This stiffness can further contribute to injury if not appropriately managed.

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In addition to the high impact force, running on concrete can also affect your stride length and cadence. A Google Scholar search reveals several studies indicating that runners tend to take shorter, quicker steps when running on hard surfaces, likely as a subconscious effort to reduce the impact.

The Influence of Running on Soft Surfaces

Soft surfaces like grass or dirt trails offer significantly more shock absorption than concrete. This reduction in impact force can spare your joints and potentially reduce the risk of injury. However, these surfaces aren’t without their drawbacks.

Running on soft surfaces can change your biomechanics due to the uneven ground. You might find that you have to engage your core more and use different muscles, especially those that provide stability. According to a Google Scholar search, increased use of stabilizing muscles could potentially lead to fatigue and subsequent injury if these muscles are not conditioned for this type of work.

Moreover, each footfall on a soft surface sinks into the ground to some extent, which increases the amount of energy your body needs to push off and continue running. Over time, this increased energy demand could potentially lead to fatigue and overuse injuries.

Running on Artificial Surfaces

Artificial surfaces, such as tracks, are designed to provide a balance between shock absorption and energy return. However, like any other surface, they have their own set of biomechanical implications.

Running on a synthetic surface like a track, according to an article found via Crossref, provides an intermediate level of stiffness between hard and soft surfaces, which can facilitate improved running economy. However, because these surfaces are usually flat and do not offer varied terrain, they could potentially contribute to repetitive strain injuries.

Further, an article indexed on PubMed noted that the elasticity of artificial surfaces might alter your biomechanics, especially your stride length and frequency. Controlling these changes and adapting your running technique to the surface is essential to prevent potential injuries.

Choosing the Right Surface for Your Run

Choosing the right running surface can be a trade-off between reducing impact force and optimizing energy efficiency. It also depends on your personal preferences and the type of running you are doing.

For example, if you are an athlete training for a marathon on city streets, it could be beneficial to do some of your training runs on concrete to adapt your body to the hard surface. Alternatively, if you are a cross-country runner, training on soft, uneven terrain could better prepare you for race conditions.

Furthermore, consider your personal injury history. If you have a history of stress fractures or joint problems, running on softer or artificial surfaces might be a better choice for you. On the other hand, if you have a strong musculature and good joint health, you might be well-suited to running on harder surfaces.


The surface you run on can significantly affect your running biomechanics and injury risk. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider the surface when planning your runs and to adapt your training accordingly. Always listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about running surfaces and your injury risk.

The Biomechanical Differences in Running on Different Surfaces

Every surface has its unique biomechanical properties that affect the body differently when running. These properties include factors like surface hardness, elasticity, and unevenness, each of which can impact joint moments, ground reaction forces, and energy exchange.

Running on hard surfaces, such as concrete, results in high ground reaction forces due to the lack of shock absorption. A study indexed on Crossref mentioned that these high loading rates on the lower extremity could lead to an increased risk of injury. On the other hand, running on soft surfaces like grass or dirt trails reduces these loading rates. Despite this, PubMed research shows that running on these surfaces may demand additional energy due to sinking into the ground, potentially leading to fatigue and overuse injuries.

Synthetic surfaces, such as athletic tracks made from artificial turf or synthetic rubber, offer a balance. The mechanical properties of these surfaces aim to provide an optimal combination of shock absorption and energy return. Even so, a Google Scholar Crossref study warns that repetitive runs on these flat surfaces can contribute to strain injuries.

However, not all artificial surfaces act the same way. A Crossref PubMed paper highlights that athletic tracks can differ significantly in their mechanical properties. The hardness, friction, and energy return can vary, each influencing the lower limb biomechanics differently. This variation underscores the importance of thoroughly understanding and selecting the most appropriate artificial surface for running.

The Importance of Adapting Training to Different Surfaces

Understanding the impacts of different surfaces on running biomechanics isn’t merely academic. It’s a crucial factor in training regimens for athletes. According to Med Sci, adjusting workouts to accommodate the properties of various running surfaces can help optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury.

For instance, incorporating runs on different surfaces can help train the body to adapt to various conditions. Running on uneven surfaces like trails can help improve balance and stability, while running on hard surfaces may help prepare the body for the conditions of a road race.

A study indexed on Crossref Google also suggests alternating between surfaces to balance the benefits and drawbacks of each. For example, running on soft surfaces can provide a respite from the impact forces of hard surfaces, while synthetic surfaces can offer a middle ground.

However, it’s essential to approach this strategically. As Med Google research points out, too sudden or drastic a change in running surface can increase injury risk, as the body might not have time to adapt to the new demands.


The effects of different running surfaces on biomechanics and injury risk are complex and multifaceted. Understanding these effects can help athletes and regular runners alike make informed decisions about their running routines. It’s essential to choose a surface that suits your running goals and physical condition. Adapting gradually to new surfaces, balancing training across different types, and listening to your body’s response can help optimize performance while mitigating injury risk. Always consult with a healthcare or fitness professional if you have any concerns or need guidance on adjusting to different running surfaces.

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