Forefoot running can actually ease plantar fasciitis symptoms. How? Because in forefoot running, the calf muscles act to minimize pronation which reduces plantar fascia strain, thereby reducing pain in the arch of the foot –the most common plantar fasciitis symptom in runners.
Although many researchers speculate that since the plantar fascia absorbs more energy at touchdown in forefoot running, forefoot running beginners might have an elevated risk of plantar fascia injury. The trust is however, experienced forefoot runners actually suffer less incidences of plantar fasciitis than heel strike runners (Arendse et al. 2004; Williams et al. 2012).
How Forefoot Running Reduces Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms
Now, the obvious question is the practical one: how does forefoot running prevent the plantar fascia from being overloaded if the plantar fascia is absorbing more energy?
The answer comes down to the role of the calf muscles in controlling pronation in forefoot running.
Landreneau et al. reported that calf muscle activity was higher during mid-stance in forefoot running than in heel strike running.
- The researchers noticed that habitually forefoot runners had a spike in calf muscle activity during mid-stance which resulted in less tibial rotation and less forefoot pronation.
The researchers speculated that the spike in calf muscle activity reflects the calf muscles working to control unwanted foot/ankle movements.
This finding should be applied to one of the most debated components of the role of forefoot running in plantar fasciitis.
As mentioned briefly, a common misconception is that forefoot running may increase the risk of plantar fasciitis –that idea emerged at the beginning of the barefoot running movement when habitually shod heel strike runners with their weak, ill-prepared feet abruptly switched to barefoot forefoot running and subsequently, many has increased plantar fascia injury.
But, there are ways around getting a plantar fasciitis from forefoot running:
- Go barefoot as much as possible. First, longitudinal foot arch strength must be preserved through increasing weight-bearing activities while barefoot or in barefoot like shoes.
- Secondly, the calf muscle’s role in forefoot running is to stabilize the foot/ankle complex, which regulates tension on the plantar fascia –this is why forefoot running, especially when barefoot, has wide appeal because of its ability to make novel use of the calf muscles to actually prevent, not cause plantar fasciitis.
Thus, as you gain more experience with being barefoot and have made long-term neuromuscular adaptations with forefoot running, you will be in a better position to run injury-free.
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Arendse RE, Noakes TD, Azevedo LB, et al. Reduced Eccentric Loading of the Knee with the Pose Running Method. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36:272-277.
Landreneau et al. Lower limb muscle activity during forefoot and rearfoot strike running techniques. Int J Sports Phys Ther, 2014; 9(7):888-897.
Williams III DSB, Green DH, Wurzinger B. Changes in lower extremity movement and power absorption during forefoot striking and barefoot running. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2012;7:525-532.
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.