Running Myth 4 – Do Hard Surfaces and Hills Increase Risk of Injury?


Hard surfaces and hills increases the risk of a running injury.


There is no surface in particular that has been clearly linked to increased risk of injury (but read on please!).


Allow me to repeat myself; as per our first post regarding the cause of running injuries, it comes down to tissue adaptation. You get good at what you do and your body adapts to the type of stimulation it is given. If your body has adapted properly to the surface you are running on – you are golden. If you were to change running surfaces on a whim and not give the body enough time to adapt, you would expose yourself to a greater risk of injury. Not all surfaces are created equal, and different surfaces affect your body differently (go figure!).

Hard surfaces – such as cement or asphalt, increases your impact moderating behavior (lighter stride, foot strike etc.) as well as the load on the posterior chain (achilles, calf, plantar fascia).

Soft surfaces –  such as sand and grass, requires more stability and challenges pronation, inward collapsing of the knees (valgus) and base of support.

Uphill – increases the force propulsion and stress on the posterior chain (achilles, calf, plantar fascia).

Downhill – increases impact during the braking phase, which increases stress on the heel, knee cap and IT band.

Regular and level surfaces – such as a treadmill, road or track will adapt the body to that one surface, and if you were to get adventurous and venture off, you will be less adapted to the new task.

Irregular and varied surfaces (insert preferred heart icon) – such as trail running, increases the risk of traumatic injuries while, on the plus side, increasing proprioception, a varied gait pattern and cadence.




Again, your body will adapt to the specific mechanical stress that the different surfaces will challenge you with. The different anatomical structures of your complex body; muscles, joints and ligaments, will chew on what they are given.


Think of it as coffee, or anything else that did not float your boat quite like cotton candy when you first dug into it. When I was younger (by a month or a few), coffee tasted like bitter, burnt hot liquid. However, as I grew accustomed to it, I found a round, complex and rich aroma accompanied by a warming, soothing, and subtle earthy, flowery and pleasant taste. As your tastebuds get challenged and adapt to a new flavour, the rest of your body will react the same to different types of stimulation.


If you tend to run the same route every time you are out enjoying those summer rays, have a think about your goals. Do you want to run on the same surface for the next little while? If so – grand! Keep going. Let us say that you are planning an excursion in the mountains, or a run up to Quarry Rock, and you are still training on the seawall, it would be time to rethink your training methods.  Please keep in mind that you get good at what you do. I dare to say that you will cook a dish once or twice to work out the kinks before an important dinner, but, if you are anything like me, you think that winging it is typically a good idea, and you will buy the groceries the same day and go with the flow. Please do not do that with your running. Practice truly does make perfect, and there are multiple ways for you to stay out of trouble. 


  • Be cautious with rapid surface changes
  • Favor a natural, irregular surface, which provides a variety of movements for the body to adapt to while stimulating your natural absorption reflexes
  • Consult a health professional in case of pathology to properly adapt the surface to your specific concern

Now go get your coffee.


Stay tuned for #TeamJina’s next post by @jeanlewispt next Tuesday where she will discuss the correlation between anatomy and pathologies.

For more Physio related information, stay updated by following @jeanlewispt and @linaenglundpt on Twitter.

References: “New Trends in the Prevention of Running Injuries” – Blaise Dubois BScPT and several scientific publications available on demand.

Photographer: Brian Goldtsone/Arc’teryx

Runner: Adam Campbell @campbelladam79

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