With all the research I’ve read on heel strike vs forefoot strike running, one consistent data-trend I’ve noticed is heel strike runners get injured by a significantly larger multiple than forefoot strike runners AND when it comes to world records (WR) across all distances, non-heel strike runners have won more WR’s by a greater multiple than heel strike runners.
The biggest problem with heel strike running is that an inescapable consequence of this running style is it produces more forms of impacts at a larger magnitude, intensity and duration than forefoot strike running. What’s worse is that the thicker the under-heel padding of a running shoe, the harder a heel strike runner plows their heel into the ground!
In contrast, landing with a forefoot strike during running results in a contact with the ground that is so brief that certain impact variables are not fully produced or produced at all. For instance, the impact transient force is not produced in forefoot strike running but it is in heel strike running.
To that point, studies conducted over the past 30 years have documented a wide-range of running injuries directly related to the impact transient force as well as other impact forces produced in heel strike running. To help you build a basic understanding of how heel strike running may be more injurious than forefoot running, here’s a list of the research showing why heel strike running produces a longer list of impact forces and how these forces increase injury risk than forefoot strike running:
More Overall Forces – Landing with a heel strike during running increases vertical loading and the vertical ground reaction force.
Stress Waves – The main reason heel strike running hurts so much and causes injury.
Higher Impact Peak Magnitudes – Landing heel-first while running may prevent proper impact absorption in the lower leg.
Body-Ground Collision Force – Landing squarely on the heel during running is equivalent to running with the brakes on whereby a collision force is created between the body and the ground at each step.
Ankle Plantar Stiffness – One reason as to how heel striking causes shin pain.
Compressive Lumbar Loads – High impacts in heel strike running may ripple all the way up through the back.
Greater Ground Reaction Forces – An impact variable produced in large amounts in heel strike running which may cause repetitive stress injury, especially on the hips.
Greater Posterior Compartment Pressures – Heel strike running may cause lower leg compartment pressure to rise to pain-inducing levels.
Repetitive Ankle Dorsifexion – In order to heel strike, the front of the foot lifts up, an action known as ‘ankle dorsiflexion’. This action may cause compartment pressure to exceed normal in the foot/ankle complex which in turn may result in tarsal tunnel syndrome over time.
Higher Patellofemoral and Tibiofemoral Compressive Forces – May increase the risk of nerve injuries in heel strike runners.
Audible Forefoot Slapping – Another characteristic of heel strike running that may cause shin splints.
There are more injuries associated with heel strike running than any other style of running. Here is a list of running injuries that are directly linked to heel strike running:
Shin Fractures – 2 main factors that cause the shin bone to crack in heel strike running.
Compartmental Syndrome – 2 ways intramuscular compartment pressure increases during heel strike running.
Plantar Fasciitis – Because ankle dorsiflexion is greater in heel strike runners, they run the risk of getting plantar fasciitis.
Heel Pad Deformation – Landing on the heel was found to increase the rate of heel pad deformation, thereby exposing the leg to more impact at each step.
Knee Pain – Heel strike running, especially at slow speeds, is very damaging to the knee-joint.
Back Pain – Here are two ways heel strike running slams the back with more impact.
Joint Degeneration – Running with a heel strike makes the knee-joint vulnerable to osteoarthritis.
Posterior Tibialis Injury – To prevent this injury, heel striking is the last thing you want to do because it forces the foot to spend more time on the ground, which has a strongly negative effect on the posterior tibialis.
Chronic Exertional Compartmental Syndrome – This is a form of chronic muscle soreness in the leg, and heel striking causes the condition.
ITBS – The foot rollover motion that occurs after the heel strikes the ground may lead to ITBS over time.
Hip Injury – The measurable impacts produced in heel strike running increases repetitive stress on the hip.
Achilles Problems – The impact accelerations of the foot during heel strike running may cause unwanted movements in the ankle joint, thereby increasing stress on the Achilles.
Hamstring Injury – The accompanied full knee extension that often occurs at heel strike during running was found to stretch the hamstrings beyond a tolerable limit as compared with forefoot running.
Why Runners Heel Strike in the First Place?
The reason most runners heel strike is actually due to the running shoes. That is, running shoes with thick, padded heels encourages a heel strike landing.
The good thing is, you can stop these injuries from happening with forefoot running.
Don’t know what forefoot running is? This is what a proper forefoot strike looks like. And lastly, you want to wear shoes that discourages heel strike. These shoes are minimalist running shoes and they are great at reducing mechanical stress during running by enabling a runner to maintain a forefoot strike.
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- Why Run Forefoot?
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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.