How Heel Striking Leads to Chronic Muscle Soreness in the Leg

If you experience chronic muscle soreness in the leg during running, you might be landing on your heels while you run, when you should be landing on your forefoot.

Unlike forefoot running, heel striking causes lower leg pain by increasing intramuscular leg pressures which is the underlying cause of chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS).

Chronic Muscles Soreness in Leg During Running

How Heel Striking Leads to Chronic Muscle Soreness in the Leg

Heel striking generates a greater magnitude of the ground reaction force than forefoot running and new reports have confirmed that reducing the ground reaction force is the first stage of treating CECS [1].

The novel solution to reduce the ground reaction force when running is to eliminate initial ground contact on the heel [2]. Given that reports of leg pain is common in heel strike runners, the high ground reaction force causes musculoskeletal conditions to respond unfavorably.

How does the ground reaction force in heel strike running interact with the body?

Compelling evidence has found that the magnitude of the ground reaction force causes soft tissue compartments to vibrate at a high frequency that prompts swelling [3,4].

  • Increased intramuscular pressure beyond the threshold may be preceded by swelling of soft tissue compartments due to prolonged exposure to high vibrational frequencies produced at heel strike.

Forefoot Running to the Rescue

Study after study has found that heel strike runners who suffered from CECS showed remarkable improvements in symptoms after adopting the forefoot running technique [1]. Why?

Forefoot running not only markedly lowers the ground reaction force, it also eliminates the rapid spike in impact measured in a heel strike landing.

Until recently, there was a disconnect between CECS and foot strike, which is surprising given that the body is immersed with impact when running on the heels. As a result of running this way, pressure periodically builds up inside the leg, rupturing membranes of cells, and shutting down their function, and pain results.

Studies that trained subjects to run with a forefoot strike (under proper instruction) rather than a heel strike, confirms that forefoot running is a powerful tool in eliminating the painful leg condition.

More from Run Forefoot:

Why Older Runners Need to Wear Minimalist Shoes – Find out how minimalist running shoes prevent age-related biomechanical impairments in older runners.

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.


[1]. Diebal et al. (2011). Effects of forefoot running on chronic exertional compartment syndrome: a case series. Int J Sports Phys Therapy, 6(4):312-21.

[2]. Nigg, BM. Impact forces in running. Current Opinion in Orthopedics (1997); 43-47.

[3]. Friesenbichler B., Stirling, LM., Federolf P and Nigg BM. Tissue vibration in prolonged running. J Biomech(2011);44(1):116-20.

[4] Wakeling, JM and Nigg, BM and Rozitis, AI. Muscle activity damps the soft tissue resonance that occurs in response to pulsed and continuous vibrations. J of Appli Physio(2002);93(3):1093-1103

[5]. Wakeling JM., Pascual SA and Nigg BM. Altering muscle activity in the lower extremities by running with different shoes. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2002); 34(9):1529-32.

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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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