Hattip to Pete Larson at Runblogger for posting this study on FB a few weeks back.
Runners who take to the side of the road to get your miles in, pay attention!
A new study coming out of Journal of Applied Biomechanics by Birgit Unfried, Arnel Aquinaldo and Daniel Cipriani shows that running on a road camber (aka a sloped road) may “alter the activity of select lower extremity muscles possibly in response to lower extremity compensations to the cambered condition.”
“Running on a road for fitness, sport, or recreation poses unique challenges to the runner, one of which is the camber of the surface. Few studies have examined the effects of camber on running, namely, kinematic studies of the knee and ankle. There is currently no information available regarding muscle response to running on a cambered road surface. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a cambered road on lower extremity muscle activity, as measured by electromyography in recreational runners. In addition, this study examined a true outdoor road surface, as opposed to a treadmill surface. The mean muscle activity of the tibialis anterior, lateral gastrocnemius, vastus medialis oblique, biceps femoris, and gluteus medius were studied. Fifteen runners completed multiple running trials on cambered and level surfaces. During the stance phase, mean activities of tibialis anterior, lateral gastrocnemius, and vastus medialis oblique were greater on the gutter side than the crown side. There were no differences in mean muscle activity during the swing phase. The findings of this study suggest that running on a road camber alters the activity of select lower extremity muscles possibly in response to lower extremity compensations to the cambered condition.”
What does that mean?
“During the stance phase, mean activities of tibialis anterior, lateral gastrocnemius, and vastus medialis oblique were greater on the gutter side than the crown side.”
The stance phase is when your foot is in contact with the ground. When you have weight on the leg closest to the curb (gutter side), there were more activities in tibialis anterior (located near the shin) lateral gastrocnemius (calf muscle on the outisde) and vastus medialis oblique (inside of your quad). Note: The parenthesis explanations are simply to help you understand where these are located.
Whatever side of your body is closest to the curb, those muscles have altered activity, which, according to the study, is possibly related to the slope of the road. I rarely run on the side of the road, but during my time in Kansas City, I noticed that if I did run along the side of the road, I felt a difference in my muscles due to the camber of the road.
Regardless of the study’s outcome, it is important to switch up both the surface and direction in which you run. It helps ensure you do not have a muscle imbalance caused by the terrain.
1) Switch up your routes and try to stick to roads that have less slope than others.
2) Stick to sidewalks or paths, if possible.
3) Pay attention to how your body feels after a run on a sharply cambered road. You may need to do some yoga or have an adjustment if you are consistently feeling pain from this.
The same goes for trailrunners. Most trails are built with a slope which helps maintain the trail integrity as well as improve drainage and wear patterns. By switching up the direction you run, you lessen this easily preventable pain.
One study doesn’t prove 100% truth, but I have personally felt this type of injury when I hit roads that are very cambered.
Do you notice a difference when running on the side of a road compared to a sidewalk or trail?