How Heel Strike Running Causes Achilles Injury

Heel strike running causes Achilles injury more so than forefoot running mainly because pronation duration is longer than in forefoot running, allowing more time for unwanted foot movements to occur that increase strain on the Achilles.

How Heel Strike Running Causes Achilles Injury

A systematic review by Tonoli (2011) on running-related injuries found that Achilles tendinopathy was the most common injury in recreational runners, most of which were heel strikers.

How Heel Strike Running Causes Achilles Injury

How does heel strike mechanics contribute to Achilles injury compared to forefoot strike mechanics?

Ground contact time is much longer in heel strike running whereby long ground contact time prolongs pronation in heel strikers who over-pronate.

  • Smart et al. reported that prolonged pronation produces a whipping action or bowstring effect in the Achilles tendon which may result in micro-tears that may, over time,  precipitate tendinosis, or partial, or even a complete rupture of the tendon

Additionally, the researchers suggested that prolonged pronation increases torsional forces on the tibia as the weight passes over the foot, which may cause vascular impairment and degenerative changes to the Achilles tendon.

Ground contact time as well as stance time is lower in forefoot strike running which may limit prolonged pronation thereby relieving tension from the Achilles tendon.

Forefoot strike running may reduce achilles injury
Forefoot running allows for less ground contact time and may reduce over-pronation.

Pronation in running allows the leg to absorb impact. Changes in force at foot strike may also affect pronation.

  • forefoot running reduces the peak force related to heel strike running through reflexive actions such as leg stiffness modification

In all, forefoot running may involve other impact absorbing mechanisms which may result in less pronation compared to heel strike running.

However, more work is needed to give us a better understanding of the relationship between foot strike mechanics and Achilles disorders in runners.

More from Run Forefoot:

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The Cause of ITBS – Understand how running shoes that are stiff and inflexible increases a runner’s risk of ITBS.

Expensive Shoes Doesn’t Mean More Protection – A study found that cheaper running shoes were linked to less injury rates than pricier ones.

Protecting Your Joints – Discover how the best joint protection technique for running is to avoid heel strike.

Born to Run…Forefoot? Here I talk about why humans are anatomically suited for forefoot running, and not heel strike running.

Are Heel Strikers Slower? Here I uncover the 2 main reasons that may slow a heel striker down.

The Neuroscience of Running….Barefoot – An overview of how barefoot running boosts motor coordination patterns in the brain, helping you run with better mechanics.

Shoes for Forefoot Strikers – Read about the barefoot-inspired running shoes that help avoid heel strike.

 


References:

Rodrigues, P., TenBroek, T and Hamill, J. Runners with anterior knee pain use a greater perceptage of their  variable pronation range of motion. J Appl Biomech (2013); 29(2):141-6.

Samaan, CD., Rainbow, MJ and Davis, IS. Reduction in ground reaction force variables with instructed barefoot running. Journal of Sport and Health Science (2014); 3(2):143-151.

Willems et al. A prospective study of gait related risk factors for exercise-related lower leg pain. Gait Posture (2006); 23(1):91-8.

Bretta Riches

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

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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