2 Ways Heel Strike Running Causes Lower Back Injury

Is your lower back killing you during or after running? If you are a heel striker, this is your problem.

There are 2 ways heel strike running causes lower back injury : over striding and knee joint stiffness, both of which results in poor impact absorption and high transient vibrations that hurt the lower back.

2 Ways Heel Strike Running Cause Lower Back Injury

How Heel Strike Running Causes Lower Back Injury

Over Striding

Over striding means the knee is extended when the foot strikes the ground [1], and is used in heel strike running, but not so much in forefoot running.

  • Over striding causes lower back injury by altering the position of the lower back and contributes to excessive anterior pelvic tilt –a catalyst for lumbar lordosis [2,3].

Knee Joint Stiffness

Knee joint stiffness at touchdown is another danger of heel strike running.

As mentioned above, the knee is extended at heel strike, which mutes shock attenuation at the knee [4], exposing the body to more impact, especially on the lower back.

How Runners Get Lower Back Injury
At heel strike, knee joint stiffness increases because the knee is maximally extended (unbent) as opposed to being flexed (bent). An extended knee at touchdown restricts the knee joint’s range of motion, resulting in poor compliance [4], making the knee less able to attenuate shock.

Preventing Lower Back Injury When Running

Since the mechanics of forefoot running are opposite to heel strike running, forefoot running may allow favorable positional changes in the pelvis, helping reduce stress on the lower back. Forefoot running also prevents over striding because the knee is bent at touchdown and there is less forward reach of the leg, which results in under hip foot placement [5,6].  The result? A more compliant knee joint at touchdown for better shock attenuation [7].

Click here to see what a forefoot strike looks like.

More to Explore at Run Forefoot:

Forefoot Running Shoes

Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome

Metatarsal Stress Fractures

Barefoot Running

Why Heel Striking is Bad for You

Preventing Runners Knee


[1]. Altman AR, Davis IS (2012) Barefoot running: biomechanics and implications for running injuries. Curr Sports Med Rep 11:244 – 50. doi:

[2]. Delgadoet al.(2013). Effects of Foot Strike on Low Back Posture, Shock Attenuation, and Comfort in Running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 490-96.

[3]. Schache, AG., Blanch, P., Rath, D., Wrigley, T and Bennell K. (2002). Three-dimensional angular kinematics of the lumbar spine and pelvis during running.Hum Mov Sci,21:273–93.

[4]. Nicola, TL and Jewison, DJ. (2012). The anatomy and biomechanics of running. Clin Sports Med, 31(2):187–201.

[5]. Franz, JR., Paylo, KW., Dicharry, J., Riley, PO and Kerrigan, DC. (2009). Changes in the coordination of hip and pelvis kinematics with mode of locomotion. Gait Posture, 29:494–8.

[6]. Kerdok, AE., Biewener, AA., McMahon, TA., Weyand, PG and Herr, HM. (2002). Energetics and mechanics of human running on surfaces of different stiffnesses. J Appl Physiol, 92:469–78.

[7]. Hamill J.,  Moses M and Saey J. Lower extremity joint stiffness in runners. Res Sports Med, 2009;17(4):260-73.

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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