2 Ways Heel Strike Runners Get Injured

Fundamentally, there are 2 ways heel strike runners get injured more than forefoot runners:

1. The body/ground collision at heel strike.

2.  The running shoes heel strike runners wear.

Ultimately, because of the cushioned running shoe, heel strike runners are never exquisitely aware of the body/ground collision force, which is why they are more susceptible to sustaining more injuries than forefoot runners.

2 Ways Heel Strike Runners Get Injured

2 Ways Heel Strike Runners Get Injured More Than Forefoot Runners

The Body/Ground Collision

Most injuries in running are impact-related. Heel strike runners produce more impact variables than forefoot runners whereby the highest point of impact in heel strike running occurs at touchdown [1].

The high impact phase at heel strike occurs because the body collides with the ground, and the body/ground collision is the source of repeated impulse loadings that causes injury in runners [2].

At least 3 decades of research supports that this high impact phase is more than enough to cause degenerative changes in knee cartilage. However, in forefoot running, the high impact phase is eliminated.

Click here to read about how forefoot running and heel strike running differ in impact force production.

Shoe Cushioning Makes Things Worse

In running, the supposed gold standard for reducing impact is through the use of thick, cushioned running shoes. However, numerous research has found evidence to the contrary.

  • Previous work has revealed that the cushion properties of the standard running shoe failed to produce detectable changes in the magnitude of impact at heel strike [3-6].
  • More notably, most barefoot runners land forefooted while most shod runners heel strike which strongly implies that runners adapt their running style to different shoe conditions, suggesting that running shoes directly influence high impact landings whereas barefoot running does not.

Unfortunately this evidence has been largely ignored by the recreational runners as more than 80% of joggers heel strike and get injured. It would make sense that omitting heel strike and adopting a forefoot strike on the assumption that the body/ground collision is negligible in forefoot running, would reduce injury.

Therefore, the gold standard for preventing running injuries does not involve cushioned materials, it involves:

1. Eliminating body/ground collisions at touchdown by landing with a forefoot strike

2. Increased proprioception  –the conscious processing of tactile-relevant information for evaluating the physical nature of the stimuli on the plantar surface– which can be achieved by running barefoot or in running shoes that mimic the feel of being barefoot.


More From Run Forefoot:

Foot Strike – 3 factors that influence foot strike pattern in runners.

Forefoot Running and the Achilles – It’s a myth that forefoot running hurts the Achilles tendon.

Back Injury – 2 ways heel strike running causes injury to the lower back.

Why Run Forefoot – Read all about the wonderful health and performance benefits of forefoot running.

Pre-Run Stretching – Find out why stretching before you run can work against you.

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[1]. Karin et al. Direct dynamics simulation of the impact phase in heel-toe running. J Biomech, 1995; 28(6):661-668.

[2]. Radin et al. Response of joint to impact loading. J Biomech, 1973;6:51-57.

[3]. Clarke TE., Frederick EC and Cooper LB. The effects of shoe cushioning upon ground reaction forces in running. Int J Sports Med, 1983, 4, 247-251.

[4]. Nigg et al. Methodological aspects of sport shoe and sport surface analysis. In: Biomechanics VIII-B, 1983. pp. 1041-1052. Human Kinetic Publishers, Champaign, IL.

[5]. Nigg, BM. Biomechanical aspects of running. In: Biomechanics of running shoes, 1986a. pp15-19. Human Kinetic Publishers, Champaign, IL.

[6]. Nigg et al. The influence of running velocity and midsole hardness on external impact forces in heel-toe running. J Biomech, 1987; 20: 951-959.

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Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

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P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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