There has been so far, little to no reported evidence of heel strike running doing a better job than forefoot running at preventing injury. In fact, forefoot running has gained almost universal acclaim for preventing all the injuries (regardless of abnormal arch height) caused by heel strike running.
Some research suggests that high arches are rigid and create a stiffer foot which reduces the capacity of the foot to dissipate impact. Essentially, high arches are thought to be poor shock absorbers, and therefore runners with abnormally high arches should wear thickly cushioned running shoes for optimal impact-protection.
However, there’s very little scientific conclusiveness showing that thicker underfoot cushioning means less impact when running. In fact, the opposite is more true in that runners pound the ground significantly harder in cushioned running shoes than in barefoot running shoes or when running barefoot!
The good news is, evidence is mounting proving that the potential for a high-arched runner to run without injury is with forefoot running, not heel strike running.
For instance, a 2012 study in the journal, The Foot, found that heel strike runners with high arches produced more impact at touchdown and at toe-off, and therefore, the heel and the forefoot may become common sites of stress-related injury.
Similar research in the journal, Foot and Ankle Surgery, also discovered that increased ankle dorsiflexion at heel strike increased maximum elevation of the arch beyond tolerance, suggesting that heel striking when running may eventually encourage the development of abnormally high, stiff arches!
It gets worse! The same study found that heel strike runners with high arches had greater mediolateral plane instability at heel strike and were more likely to have rapid internal rotations of the tibia (shin) shortly during stance!
- The increases in tibial internal rotation during running are well known risk factors in runner’s knee and anterior shin pain (pain in the front of the shins)
What is more, the researchers also found that heel strike runners with high arches had a higher medial force component at landing as compared with heel strike runners with low arches. In forefoot running however, arch height was not a risk factor for injury!
How Forefoot Running is Better for Runners, Regardless of Arch Height!
We know that relative impact loads on the entire foot, especially under the heel, are significantly greater in heel strike running, but more so in heel strike runners with higher arches!
The good news is however, forefoot running is consistently associated with the biggest reductions in all-around impact forces, not just on the foot, but the on the entire body as compared with heel strike running.
Even better, ample research has found that forefoot running results in a contact of the foot with the ground that’s so brief that certain impact variables are not fully produced or not even produced at all. In this way, since there’s no excessive impact on the foot, high arches are much less vulnerable to injury.
Bending and twisting strain are also minimized to a safer range of tolerance in forefoot running because of the natural reductions in foot ground-contact time leaves less time for over-pronation (abnormal motions of the heel during touchdown and stance) to occur.
In the final summation, forefoot running sustains much better for higher arches because there’s just less all-around impacts and physical stress acting on the foot. It’s also evident that unlike heel strike running, forefoot running actually improves the spring properties of the arch, regardless of arch height! Here’s my article on that!
Carson et al. Increases plantar force and impulse in American football player with high arch compared to normal arch. The Foot, 2012, 22; 310-314.
Omar AM., Lee AS and Parsons SW. The clinical presentation of chronic tibialis anterior insufficiency. Foot and Ankle Surg, 1999; 5:251-256.
Kim, W., Voloshin, A.S., Johnson, S.H., and Simkin, A.: Measurement of impulse bone motion by skin-mounted accelerometers. J. Biomech. Eng., 115:47-52, 1993.
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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.