Heel Strike Running is Bad For Your Foot’s Arch vs Forefoot Running

Based on credible evidence and facts (references below article), if you are a runner with high or low arches, if you heel strike when you run, you will always be significantly more prone to a range of injuries vs if you use a forefoot strike.

Arch height, high or low, was found to be a big source of injury in heel strike running, and adds yet another reason not to heel strike when you run.

Arch height was found to be a risk factor for injury in heel strike running, but not in forefoot running! This is because a study published in the journal, Foot Ankle International, discovered that forefoot striking resulted in less arch pain by reducing heavy impact loads off the arch, regardless of arch height vs heel strike running.

Why Forefoot Running is Better For Your Foot's Arch
How to prevent arch injury when running? Landing with a forefoot strike was found to lessen the work of the arch, regardless of having abnormally high or low arches vs heel strike running.

Why Heel Strike Running Damages the Arch

Before the propulsive phase in heel strike running, the mass of the body transfers over the foot from heel-to-toe which was found to overload the arch, resulting in arch pain and injury.

Bottom of arch foot pain
At heel strike, there’s a burst of high impact that shoots through the arch, to the 2nd toe. Researchers believe that this line of travel of impact pressure overloads the arch beyond tolerance.

What’s worse, a landmark study in the journal, Gait Posture, revealed that lower arch height was more problematic for heel strike runners because it resulted in a lateral distribution pattern of impact pressure over the foot vs heel strike running with higher arches, which produced a medial distribution pattern. What are the implications to the two types of impact pressure dispersals over the foot?

  • A lateral distribution pattern of impact pressure over the foot was found to force the foot into extreme positions (i.e. over-pronation), which not only increased bending and twisting strain on the arch, more bending and twisting strain was transferred up the leg, resulting in shin and knee pain!

How Forefoot Running is Better for Your Arches

The distribution pattern of impact pressure over the foot in forefoot running is radically different and brings more relief from impact over-exposure on the arch. This is because a forefoot strike landing naturally provides a significantly larger contact area of the foot on the ground. For one, this allows impact pressure to disperse evenly over the foot, avoiding any dangerous hot-spots.

Why Forefoot Running is Better For Your Foot's Arch
Landmark studies have found arch height in forefoot running plays no role in causing injury, but it does if you run with a heel strike.

Another optimistic finding was arch height variation (i.e. higher or lower arches) did not lead to more impact production, nor did it lead to over-pronation because it did not alter impact pressure distribution over the foot. This suggests that runners with abnormally high or low arches will benefit more from forefoot running because it does the most good in really helping even out impact over the foot than heel strike running. 

Why Forefoot Running is Better for Your Arches
The heel-to-toe rollover phase in heel strike running is eliminated in forefoot running (shown above) because the foot under-goes a forefoot-to-heel action which was found to be the least burdening on the arch, while spreading impact pressure more safely over the foot.

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Even better,  forefoot running automatically increases step frequency, which means forefoot running results in a contact of the foot with the ground that is so brief, many forms of impacts are prevented from rising to pain-inducing levels. A study in Clinical Journal Sport Med, confirmed that the spatiotemporal comparison of contact time and the distance between the center of mass (i.e your hips) and the heel is lower than in heel strike running, suggesting that forefoot striking involves less weight transfer, and therefore, less loading over the arch, while lessening kinematic demands of the arch, also.

The Take Home Message

The most obvious challenge in running is avoiding injury whereby reliably unburdening the arch in ways that sustains is yet another credential to add to forefoot running’s impressive resume. Also understand that to date, no firm evidence exists that heel strike running has its own set of impact protection, like forefoot running. This is why heel strike runners need to wear thickly cushioned running shoes whereas forefoot running reduces so much impact that you can run barefoot without producing more impact. As long as you land with a forefoot strike, you will always have net-reductions in impact that results in less demands placed on the entire body.
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Still need more convincing that forefoot running is the best course of action to prevent injury? Here are all the evidence-backed reasons forefoot running perfectly prevents all the injuries linked to heel strike running.

If you’ve enjoyed my post, you’ll love my YouTube channel, here, where I show why and how forefoot running works!


[1]. Lees, A., Lake, M and Klenerman, L. (2005). Shock absorption during forefoot running and its relationship to the longitudinal arch height. Foot Ankle Int, 26(12):1081-8.

[2]. De Cock et al. (2008). The trajectory of the center of pressure during barefoot running as a potential measure for foot  function. Gait Posture, 27(4):669-75.

[3]. Hunter, L. (2003). A new approach to modelling vertical stiffness in heel-toe runners. J Sports Sci Med, 2(4):169-43.

[4]. Thijs et al. (2007). A prospective study on gait-related intrinsic factors for patellofemoral pain. Clin J Sport Med, 17(6):437-45.

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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

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!