Why Older Runners Shouldn’t Heel Strike

As runners age, so do the heel pads! Age-related heel pad atrophy makes heel strike running damaging to older runners as the shock-absorbing capacity of the musculoskeletal system fades with age [1], leading to higher impact peak forces that contribute to overuse injuries [2].

Why Older Runners Shouldn't Heel Strike When They Run
The body is less able to absorb heel strike impact with age.

Why Older Runners Shouldn’t Heel Strike

In older runners who heel strike, injury arises because older age means older heel pads that are less able to absorb impact.

Age-Related Heel Pad Atrophy Makes Heel Strike Running Damaging for Older RunnersA study Bus [3]  reconciled the link between age-related heel pad atrophy and greater impact peak force in older runners.

The study found that older runners (55-65) who were heel strikers, produced a higher impact peak force and loading rate compared to younger runners (adolescents), who were also heel strikers.

Interestingly however, the older runners had a shorter stride and greater knee flexion –kinematic variables that reduce impact– yet they managed to generate more impact than the younger runners.

Based on the results, older runners who heel strike are more likely to generate higher impact during running and the age-related loss of muscle strength and shock absorption causes pain and injury to be more constant [3-7].

Forefoot Running to the Rescue!

Because impact peak forces precede pain and injuries in runners, avoiding heel strike during running will help reduce incidences of repetitive stress injury. Knowing that the heel pad loses elasticity with age hints that older runners would benefit more from forefoot running as a shortcut to avoid injury. This is because running with a forefoot strike suspends impact from the heel. Click here to see what a forefoot strike looks like.

Wearing zero-drop, minimalist running shoes is also essential to forefoot running as there is lots of evidence that zero-drop shoes facilitates a forefoot strike.

In all, most running injuries are framed as being impact peak-related. Because forefoot running abolishes impact peak forces, older runners stand to gain from adopting this style of running. So, older runners struggling with injury need to make impact reduction feasible by ditching their heel strike and their cushioned heeled running shoes.

More From Run Forefoot:

One of the best ways to improve your forefoot running form is by running barefoot.

Find out how forefoot running enhances performance better than heel strike running.

Humans were born to run, but to do so on their forefoot.

Find out why the risk of injury increases during heel striking when you’re tired.

Review of zero-drop minimalist running shoes for forefoot running.


[1]. JAHSS , M. H., F. K UMMER , and J. D. M ICHELSON . Investigations into the fat pads of the sole of the foot: heel pressure studies. Foot Ankle 13:227–232, 1992.

[2]. NIGG , B. M., G. K. C OLE , and G. P. B RUGGEMAN . Impact forces during heel-toe running. J. Appl. Biomech. 11:407–432, 1995.

[3]. Bus SA. Ground reaction forces and kinematics in distance running in older-aged men. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2003;35(7):1167-1175.

[4]. HSU , T. C., C. L. W ANG , W. C. T SAI , J. K. K UO , and F. T. T ANG . Comparison of the mechanical properties of the heel pad between young and elderly adults. Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 79:1101–1104, 1998.

[5]. JAHSS , M. H. Geriatric aspects of the foot and ankle. In: Clinical Geriatrics, 3rd Ed. I. Rosmann (Ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1986, pp. 567–578.

[6]. LARSSON , L., G. G RIMBY , and J. K ARLSSON . Muscle strength and speed of movement in relation to age and muscle morphology. J. Appl. Physiol. 46:451–456, 1979.

[7]. VANDERVOORT , A. A., and A. J. M CCOMAS . Contractile changes in opposing muscles of the human ankle joint with aging. J. Appl. Physiol. 61:361–367, 1986.

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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