I think heel strike runners are at a greater risk of pulling a muscle because at heel strike, there’s only a very small landing area of the foot that’s provided that the body must try to balance on. The balancing act that results from landing squarely on the heel during running unleashes lower body modifications that are abrupt and could lead to hyperextension injury.
Heel Strike Running May Cause Hyperextension Injury
Landing high on the heel during running may be very challenging for balance because of reduced base support via landing on a smaller surface area of the foot (i.e. the heel). The added need for balance may also require greater mechanical work and may also result in leg hyperextension injury in areas such as the hip, knee or ankle, as a compensatory strategy for more balance.
At heel strike, there are greater excursions at the knees and hips, especially during the absorption phase of running (Valenzuela et al. 2015), a phase of which body segments, especially the lower leg, must be as stable as possible to sufficiently deflect or absorb impact, suggesting that the wobbly support surface of the heel, exposes the body to more impact. This wobbling of the body at heel strike, causes the joints of the lower leg to move more about their axis as compared with a forefoot strike landing, which is associated with less joint displacement of the knees and hips. Because a forefoot strike landing appears to be more stable, there is less overwhelming motions on the lower body.
In order to stabilize the hips and knees and reduce hyper-extension injury to these areas during running, a more stable landing environment needs to be created, and one of the best ways to do this is by landing on your forefoot (rather than your heel) which creates a greater landing surface area, thereby creating a much more stable platform than landing with a heel strike. Another good thing is that forefoot running would invest less energy into stabilizing the body, so you will be more energy-efficient, too!
Here are more reasons why heel strike running puts you at greater risk of injury.
More From Run Forefoot:
Valenzuela et al. Effect of Acute Alterations in Foot Strike Patterns during Running on Sagittal Plane Lower Limb Kinematics and Kinetics. J Sport Sci Med, 2015;14, 225-232.
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.
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