Is heel striking a problem for you when you run? With all the research I’ve been doing on the matter, most runners are hurting for a reason and that reason is their heel strike landing as this style of running is profoundly hard on the body, most notably on the knees! Luckily, along came Born to Run, and many runners have since been lifted out of their injurious struggles.
What I’ve learned about running is that foot strike shapes your health as a runner: run with a heel strike and you have a greater risk of injury than if you run with a forefoot strike.
In heel strike running, impact is considerably multiplied and the heel strike impact is inescapable even with the use of thick cushioned running shoes, to say the least, making it that much more hard to avoid injury.
Is Heel Striking a Problem for You During Running?
Studies conducted over the past 30 years have documented a wide-range of running injuries related to the impact transient force in heel strike running.
To help you build a basic understanding as to how heel strike running causes injury, here is how the impact variables of heel strike running interacts with the body:
More Overall Forces – Landing on the heel during running increases vertical loading and the vertical ground reaction force.
Stress Waves – The main reason heel striking hurts so much and causes injury.
Higher Impact Peak Magnitudes – Prevents proper impact absorption in the lower leg.
Body-Ground Collision Force – Landing on the heel is equivalent to running with the brakes on – you create a collision force between you and the ground at each step.
Ankle Plantar Stiffness – One reason as to how heel striking causes shin pain.
Compressive Lumbar Loads – Heel running magnifies harmful forces on the lower back.
Greater Ground Reaction Forces – This is how heel striking causes repetitive stress injury, especially on the hips.
Knee Hyperextension – Most common way heel strikers get runners knee, chronically!
Knee Stiffness – At heel strike, the knee is unbent and locked into a stiff, unstable position, preventing the knee from absorbing impact. The problem, more impact is deflected to the shins.
Greater Posterior Compartment Pressures – As compartment pressures rise in the leg at heel strike, the added pressure may compress nerves.
Repetitive Ankle Dorsifexion – At heel strike, the ankle is dorisflexed. This may cause 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.
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.