Leg pain when running is a sign of compartmental syndrome and can be prevented with forefoot running.
How Forefoot Running Stops the Legs From Hurting
Most researchers agree that forefoot running affords benefits that last long-term, which includes preventing leg pain, partly because forefoot running involves ankle plantar flexion at touchdown, whereas in heel strike running, the ankle is dorsiflexed at touchdown, which increases strain on the lower leg because the leg muscles are constantly pulling the forefoot back before and at each step.
At heel strike, ankle dorsiflexion causes the tibialis anterior to decelerate plantar flexion, which elevates lower leg compartment pressures (Diebal et al., 2012). Greater activation of the dorsiflexors at heel strike also promotes greater anterior compartment pressures during running (Diver et al., 2005).
Forefoot running on the other hand, fosters less leg pain because ankle dorsiflexion is controlled, allowing a plantarflexed position of the ankle at touchdown. And since ankle plantar flexion is used at touchdown, dorsiflexor muscle activation is spared in forefoot running.
Need More Convincing?
In support of the conviction that forefoot running helps lower leg pain, Diebal et al., 2011, found that heel strike runners who suffered chronic lower leg compartment syndrome avoided surgical intervention by switching to forefoot running.
So, don’t leg pain disrupt your running ability. When it comes to forefoot running, it’s never too late to start. But first, start here for exercises proven to reduce leg pain when running.
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Diebal AR, Gregory R, Alitz C, Gerber JP. Effects of forefoot running on chronic exertional compartment syndrome: a case series. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011;6(4):312-321.
Divert C, Mornieux G, Baur H, Mayer F, Belli A. Mechanical comparison of barefoot and shod running. Int J Sports Med. 2005;26(7):593-598.
Kirby RL, McDermott AG. Anterior tibial compartment pressures during running with rearfoot and forefoot landing styles. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1983;64(7):296-299.
Storen O., Helgerud J and Hoff, J. Running stride peak forces inversely determine running economy in elite runners. Nat Strength Cond Asssoc, 2011; 1(25):117-123.
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.