Forefoot Strike Running May Prevent IT Band Injury

Landing with a forefoot strike when you run may hold great power over improving other aspects of your leg swing mechanics that may relieve excessive vertical impacts, tensile stress, bending strain and higher rates of loading off the IT Band (also known as the iliotibial band which is a long stretch of connective tissue that runs along the outside of the leg from the hip to the knee and shinbone).

Forefoot Strike Running May Prevent IT Band Injury
Several studies have connected forefoot strike running with two mechanical outputs that may reduce IT band strain: a shorter stride length and a larger step-width (the distance in width between both feet at each step). These two mechanical outputs naturally occur when you land with a forefoot strike when you run and has a large effect of correcting mechanical entanglements of the leg. In this capacity, bending strain and loading overexposure on the IT band may be prevented, but what’s most essential is that this is how forefoot running may make the IT band less vulnerable to the ravages of high intensity running on the roads and hilly, uneven terrain.

A growing body of evidence shows that a shorter stride length and a slightly wider step-width can consistently provide the IT band relief from mechanical overloading during running but of significance, both of these mechanical outputs are assisted with forefoot running, not in heel strike running. For instance, a 2015 published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that heel strike runners shortened their by 2% when they switched to forefoot strike running.

The authors noted however that a shortened stride length alone was not enough to sufficiently reduce IT band strain when running and that to effectively reduce IT band strain more fully, step-width must be widened in-conjunction with maintaining a shorter stride length when running. This mechanical combo can be easily achieved in forefoot running since stride length is usually reduce and step-width increased. Why?

When you land on the front part of your foot when you run, the foot physically does not have enough time to swing out all the way through and around the stance limb, thereby stride length becomes shortened and at the same time, there’s also less time for the foot to swing out all the way in front of the body across the mid-line, rather because of this swing time constraint, the foot is better positioned to be pulled slightly away from the mid-line and is more likely to drop down closer to your center of mass, resulting in slighter wider step-width as opposed to a crossover footsteps (footsteps that cross the mid-line, which is a major risk factor for IT band pain).

Forefoot Strike Running May Prevent IT Band Injury
Landing with a forefoot strike during running instantly mobilizes a foot strike placement that lands either on or slightly away from the mid-line. This means that step-width becomes widened and stride length becomes shortened all of which has a well-known effect of reducing bending loads on the IT band.

If you’re struggling with IT band syndrome (symptoms often include sharp outer knee pain or pain that shoots up and down your leg when you run), to be on the safe side, it is probably worth considering changing from heel strike to forefoot strike running as we are quickly gaining a better scientific understanding as to how forefoot strike running can clean up aspects of your running gait in ways that may push your leg swing and foot strike mechanics into a more safe range.

To help you get started on learning forefoot strike running, here are 2  video’s I put together showing a proper forefoot strike landing:


If you’ve enjoyed this content, you’ll love my content over at my YouTube channel, here, where I talk more in detail about hot-button debate, forefoot strike vs heel strike running as well as the health and performance benefits of adding barefoot running into your training! 

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my Run Forefoot Facebook page here! 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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References:

Derrick TR, Caldwell GE, Hamill J. Modeling the stiffness character-
istics of the human body while running with various stride lengths.
J Appl Biomech. 2000;16:36-51.

Derrick TR, Hamill J, Caldwell GE. Energy absorption of impacts dur-
ing running at various stride lengths. Med Sci Sports Exerc.
1998;30(1):128-135.

Edwards WB, Taylor D, Rudolphi TJ, Gillette JC, Derrick TR. Effects
of stride length and running mileage on a probabilistic stress fracture
model. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(12):2177-2184.

Heiderscheit BC, Chumanov ES, Michalski MP, Wille CM, Ryan MB.
Effects of step rate manipulation on joint mechanics during running.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(2):296-302.

Lenhart RL, Thelen DG, Wille CM, Chumanov ES, Heiderscheit BC.
Increasing running step rate reduces patellofemoral joint forces.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014;46(3):557-564.

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!