Another suggestion as to why heel strike runners are more likely to injure as compared with runners who use a forefoot strike, is that the human body does not have the anatomy or the physiology to fully absorb impact during the touchdown phase, also known as the impact phase of heel strike running.
Body Can’t Absorb During Heel Strike Running
High ground reaction forces cause injuries, particularly to the bone, in runners (Hreljac et al. 200), and one of the main reasons heel strike runners suffer more injuries than forefoot runners is due to the fact that heel strike running produces a stronger ground reaction force and the body has not yet adapted ways to deal with this impact.
- Bobbert et al. (1992) reported that humans have no control over their body rotations during the impact phase of running, suggesting that heel runners can’t use body rotations to shield off impact.
- Nigg (1986a) found that runners were unable to react with a change in muscle activity in the relative short duration of the body/ground collision, suggesting that muscle activity does little to dampen the heel strike impact force.
This means that even though humans are highly reflexive creatures, our reflexes seem to fail us completely when we are exposed to this collision. (Note the video below).
Heel strike runners also lack impact absorption mechanics as compared with forefoot runners. For instance, as Christopher McDougall explained above, heel strike runners land with an extended knee, which amplifies impact and places greater demands on the knee-joint structure. Forefoot runners on the other hand, land with a more flexed knee, which enables the ankle to land under the knee at touchdown, thereby reducing impact force from the knee. Below shows how bending the knee in forefoot running allows ankle position to occur under the knee, which creates a softer landing on the knee altogether.
So, instead of investing more money on expensive running shoes with cushioning, convert to forefoot running to prevent such problems. In the meantime, here are more reasons to avoid heel strike running.
Bobbert, MF., Yeadon, MR and Nigg, BM. Mechanical analysis of the landing phase in heel-toe running. J Biomech, 1992; 25(3):223-34.
Hreljac A, Marshall RN, Hume PA. Evaluation of lower extremity overuse injury potential in runners.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32(9):1635–1641.
Nigg, BM. Biomechanical aspects of running. In: Biomechanics of running shoes, 1986a. pp15-19. Human Kinetic Publishers, Champaign, IL.
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.
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