By Arthur L. Raines

There are many benefits of incorporating running into a regular exercise routine. It can improve heart health, muscle mass, bone density, emotional wellness, and help aid weight loss. It is no surprise, then, to see just how popular running has become in today’s society.

With this rise in interest comes general inquiries into the possible negative effects of running. One of the most frequently asked questions is in regards to terrain. That is, are runners safe sticking to the paved paths and sidewalks that we see here in Intown, or would they be better off finding unpaved trails with a softer footing?

Before this can be answered, we have to recognize that running, in general, is a high-impact exercise. Injuries to the joints, tendons, bones, and muscles, especially when individuals first begin a regular running routine, are not uncommon. Specifically regarding soft versus hard terrain, however, there is not much consensus. Yes, hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt do place a slightly higher level of stress on the bones and joints when running, but softer terrains, like trails and grass, hold their own problems as well – less clear visibility can mean that holes or sudden changes in surface level go unnoticed, leading to sprained ankles, torn tendons, or pulled muscles.

Despite this lack of consensus, most experts do agree on one thing regarding terrain: avoid repetition. This is particularly true for runners in the city who likely run the same evenly paved paths on a regular basis. When the body runs the same terrain over and over, it uses the same muscle groups over and over. It is this factor of repetition which has been widely found to cause injuries in runners due to the over-working of specific muscle groups and the neglect of others. The problem with running on the city sidewalks, then, doesn’t seem to be the hard surface itself, but its lack of variation.

That variety, which can easily be found on unpaved hiking trails or footpaths, forces the entire body to engage a wider range of muscles and therefore allows the body to develop a more holistic strength. While Intown residents might think the monotonous sidewalks are their only ITP option, there are actually several great options to take a break from the city streets:

• Interim Hiking Trails on Atlanta’s Belt Line
• Peidmont Park Footbridges and Trails
• Waterworks/Mason Mill Trails
• Morningside Nature Preserve

If trail running isn’t your cup of tea, runners are still advised to take a few days off a week from their normal running routine and participate in different exercise activities. A few suggestions are swimming, cycling, weight training and using elliptical machines. While giving the joints and muscles in the legs time to rest from the high-impact nature of running, these exercises also strengthen the core, arm muscle groups, and hips. This change in routine can make a huge difference in injury prevention efforts. Overall, if you are a regular runner, you can limit the repetitive impact of your daily run by varying your terrains or cross training with other exercise activities.

Dr. Arthur L. Raines is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at Resurgens Orthopaedics’ Midtown office. His areas of expertise include arthroscopic and reconstructive surgery, total joint replacement, general orthopaedics, sports medicine, trauma and fracture care, and occupational injuries/workers’ compensation.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.