4 Tips to Relieve Sore Knees when Forefoot Running

You shouldn’t get sore knees from forefoot running…….if you are doing it right. Knee aching pain in forefoot running is primarily due to inappropriate biomechanical variables that increases stress and stain on the knee-joint. So, if you are experiencing nagging joint pain in both knees, here are some tips to tweak your form to give you pain-free knees.

4 Tips to Relieve Sore Knees when Forefoot Running

Arendse et al., (2004) found the runners who made minor changes in posture during forefoot running had significant improvements in knee pain and activity work at the knee-joint was minimized.

The postural changes and actions that improved knee pain were of the following:

1. To initiate movement, lean forward in the above posture (upper body), allowing the body to fall forward.

  • this means that to initiate running, lean first with your torso and then move the legs as opposed to standing upright and then reaching out with the leg to start running.

2. At initiation of movement, lift the supporting foot behind the body or under the hips by flexing (bending) the knee and avoid pushing away from the ground i.e. the supporting surface

  • this means that in order to continue moving forward, the feet/legs must get out-of-the-way and prevent the body from stopping or breaking. This is why the action of lifting keeps the legs out-of-the-way from the moving system which is the falling torso.
Knee Pain Tips for Forefoot Strikers
To reduce knee loads, subtly fall forward first, then pick up the foot with the leg.

3. And of course, always avoid contact of the heel first with the ground, but rather initial contact is always made with the balls of the foot and not the toes.

  • we all know that heel striking causes braking, so don’t do it.

4. Always maintain a flexed knee (soft knee bend) throughout the gait cycle! Never straighten or unbend the knee at touchdown.

Knee Pain Tips for Forefoot Running
(A) Adding a slight bend in the knee makes it flexed and facilitates a forefoot strike. (B) An unbent knee is not flexed and facilitates a heel strike. To reduce knee pain, aim for (A)!

Why does this work?

A bent knee at forefoot touchdown, decreases horizontal braking as well as the magnitude and loading rates of the vertical impact force. In this position, knee power absorption and eccentric work are significantly lower compared to heel running.

Conversely, ankle power absorption and concentric work is greater in forefoot running and it has been suggested that the work activity of the knee is redistributed to the ankle. Does this mean ankle injuries are higher in forefoot running?

No. Because naturally, the ankle has a bigger role in forefoot running than the knee, so it makes sense that the ankle has more responsibility in terms of activity work than the knee. Plus, the increased ankle power absorption and concentric work in forefoot running does not appear to have any association with injuries.

But, we do know that runners knee is an injury that is scarce in forefoot runners and is very common among heel strike runners.

Intriguingly, the same study found that as speed increased, knee power generation and concentric work reduced with the forefoot running technique (Pose Running) which supports well-established evidence that humans become more kinematically efficient at faster running speeds.

So what does this mean?

Running faster while utilizing the proper forefoot running technique is easier on the joints (knee & ankle). Forefoot running is not for trotting, it is for running faster and faster.

The Take Home Message

Loads of evidence supports the conclusion that forefoot running prevents and ‘cures’ knee pain, but blindly adopting the forefoot technique without careful thought on proper posture and knee control won’t do you any good.

Forefoot running involves more than just landing on the balls of the foot, you must lean forward slightly to get the system moving and to keep the system moving. And finally, to avoid braking, bend the knee.

I always like to say that the forward lean is the engine that keeps the system moving and the legs/feet are the wheels that keeps the system rolling.

The heel and knee are the brakes only if you strike the ground on your heel first while your knee is unbent.

On a final note, incorporating inflammation-fighting foods in your diet can make you feel great fast because they have a big affect on improving pain. Here are some recommended foods that work like a miracle on easing sore muscles and joints.

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References:

Arendse et al. Reduced eccentric loading on the knee with the Pose Method of Running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2004; 36(2):272-7.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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