Best Running Surfaces for Knee Pain
There is much debate within the fitness community about what surface is better for running, especially for those with weak, injured, or arthritic knees. Natural surfaces like grass or sand and harder surfaces like pavement or a treadmill are all contenders in this debate. Running, regardless of the surface, can place a lot of stress on the knees. This may lead to runner’s knee – a chronic condition that causes knee pain behind the kneecap during or after a run. The Phoenix orthopedic surgeons at OrthoArizona are evaluating the different surfaces to determine which one is most effective for building knee strength and reducing knee pain.
Running on grass or sand has many benefits for runners. The surface is soft and absorbent, which means less force is being placed on the knee with every step. Additionally, running in sand forces the activation of quadricep and hip muscles. These muscles support and strengthen muscles within your knees. Softer surfaces are also beneficial for individuals who have sustained a knee injury, or who are recovering from a total knee joint replacement. However, uneven surfaces, which are common in grass or sand, can be really dangerous. If a runner is unable to see or predict bumps or ditches in their running surface, they may be susceptible to traumatic injuries, sprained ankles, plantar fasciitis, and other foot conditions.
Some of our patients may complain of knee pain after running on a treadmill. There are certain types of treadmills that offer padding to help absorb shock in order to reduce some of this pain. Our physical therapists say that while this feature may help, most treadmills will put a lot of stress on the knees. Of course, running on the treadmill has some benefits too. If running in the Arizona heat is not an option, treadmills offer a great alternative for training and conditioning. Moreover, a treadmill can help runners develop proper form and build knee strength before a big race. The physical therapists at OrthoArizona can help create an injury prevention plan for runners, fully equipped with different conditioning techniques.
Running outside on concrete, in some cases, may have just as many disadvantages as running on a treadmill. A concrete or asphalt surface does not absorb the amount of shock needed to reduce strain on your knees. However, running outside does have one perk over running on a treadmill! It allows the runner to control his or her speed. Nevertheless, treadmills can feel unnatural with the ground moving under you. Running outside is much more natural and may be better for your knees.
The verdict? Our OrthoArizona team says… use them all! Each running surface has its pros and cons, but they all offer something different, which is what training is all about – using different workouts to reach your maximum potential. When it comes to strengthening the knees to prevent injury, try a variety of running surfaces and follow our knee strengthening guide. The Phoenix area has a perfect mix of gyms, urban sidewalks, and hiking trails for runners galore!