Heel strike running is damaging to the Achilles tendon because it increases repetitive to the tendon. Heel strike running causes repetitive strain injury on the Achilles tendon by reducing the stiffness of the tendon and also by increasing loading on the tendon, especially at touchdown.
Achilles Stiffness is a Good Thing!
In running, the Achilles tendon is supposed to be stiff for two reasons: 1. a stiff Achilles tendon loads up with more elastic energy better than a loose one and 2. increased mechanical stiffness protects the Achilles tendon from shear forces by providing better stability of the collagen framework surrounding the tendon during running (Shaikh et al. 2012).
Forefoot Strike vs Heel Strike
Because they land with a forefoot strike, sprinters tend to have greater Achilles tendon stiffness, and therefore a greater capacity to store elastic energy as compared with most marathoners who heel strike.
- A forefoot strike landing reduces ankle dorsiflexion, resulting in a stiffer Achilles tendon that is able to load up with elastic energy (Kubo et al.2001).
From that information alone, forefoot running would be useful because the Achilles tendon is more protected due to greater tendon stiffness.
Heel strike running on the other hand, involves passive dorsiflexion which decreases Achilles tendon stiffness, which not only compromises energy return, but the mechanical functions of the muscle-tendon unit of the lower leg as well (Arampatzis et al. 2006).
- When Achilles tendon stiffness is reduced during heel strike running, its tendious properties undergoes remodeling for the worse, increasing the likelihood of repeptive strain injury to the tendon.
- Past reports have found that the Achilles tendon is more likely to rupture when stiffness is compromised (Wren et al. 2003; Schechtman and Bader 2002).
The Take Home Message
Landing on the heel instead of the forefoot, is where you get the most impact during running. Furthermore, the magnitude of Achilles tendon repetitive strain injury in habitually shod heel strike runners has raised important questions about the appropriateness of heel strike running. Nor is there any evidence that forefoot running has significant disruptions on the architecture of the Achilles tendon, suggests that running with a forefoot strike places less load on the Achilles as compared with a heel strike.
Therefore, when it comes to Achilles tendon health, make switching to forefoot running your first priority. Click here to learn more about why forefoot running is healthier for you.
More to Explore at Run Forefoot:
Why Going Barefoot – Understand why going barefoot is an invaluable to learning the proper forefoot running.
Footwear – A guide to help you make the right choice on forefoot running shoes.
The Calves – Learn the important role of the calves in forefoot running, which maybe why they are sore when you first learn forefoot running.
Forefoot Form Improvements – How speed work polishes your form more effectively the long, slow distance running.
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Arampatzis A, De Monte G, Karamanidis K, Morey-Klapsing G, Stafilidis S, Bruggemann GP. Influence of the muscle-tendon units mechanical and morphological properties on running economy. J Exp Biol. 2006;209(Pt 17):3345 – 57.
Kubo K, Kanehisa H, Kawakami Y, Fukunaga T. Influence of static stretching on viscoelastic properties of human tendon structures in vivo. J Appl Physiol. 1985;90(2):520 – 7. 2001.
Shaikh Z, Perry M, Morrissey D, Ahmad M, Del Buono A, Maffulli N. Achilles tendinopathy in club runners. Int J Sports Med. 2012;33(5):390 – 4.
Schechtman H, Bader DL. Fatigue damage of human tendons. J Biomech. 2002;35(3):347 – 53.
Wren TA, Lindsey DP, Beaupre GS, Carter DR. Effects of creep and cyclic loading on the mechanical properties and failure of human Achilles tendons. Ann Biomed Eng. 2003;31(6):710 – 7.
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.