There is an important reason why many runners suffer ankle problems, and that reason is running shoes with a large cushioned heel. If you have persistent ankle pain from running, your running shoes may have too much cushioning under the heel whereby past studies have found that cushioned running shoes with different heel heights affect foot motions which directly probes ankle motions –a higher heel height was found to evoke undesirable rearfoot movements which may hurt the ankle during running.
Another study concluded that runners should avoid wearing running shoes with an elevated heel because it prevents the muscles of the leg from stabilizing the ankle joint during the stance phase of running.
Pain on Top of Ankle When Running
Research is showing that our feet move differently in cushioned heeled running shoes than when running barefoot or in zero drop, minimalist running shoes. For instance, a study by Willwacher et al. 2013 demonstrated that cushioned heeled running shoes may significantly increase a runners risk of ankle injury by causing the heel of the foot to be pushed too far outward during the stance phase of running. The researchers found that cushioned heeled running shoes had resulted in a 30% increase in eversion velocity (outward movement of the heel) during the stance of running. This partly occurs because the under-heel cushioning causes a rapid plantar-flexion moment (the forefoot is pushed downward) during the stance phase of running, which in turn, causes the tendons of the lower leg to become loose resulting in a brief loss of muscular control potential of the ankle joint.
- The researchers noted that the loss of muscular control potential occurs in the deep plantar-flexor muscles, preventing the muscles from controlling outward movements of the rearfoot during the stance phase of running.
Other work has found that the loss of muscular control potential at the ankle-joint induced by cushioned heeled athletic footwear, increases the risk of common running-injuries, such as plantar fasciits, runners knee, and shin fractures (Friesenbichler et al. 2011; Moen et al. 2009; Hintermann & Nigg, 1998).
Prevention of these injuries require a stable running surface for the feet, so that the heel does not undergo extreme motions that increases stress on the ankle joint. Running shoes work in the opposite direction for us because they create an unstable platform for both the feet and the ankle. Barefoot running and running in minimalist running shoes seem to allow for greater muscular control of the feet and ankle, and therefore may do a better job at protecting the ankle from injury –because the stance phase will be more stable.
More From Run Forefoot:
Friesenbichler B, Stirling LM, Federolf P, Nigg BM. Tissue vibration in prolonged running. J Biomech. 2011;44(1):116–120.
Hintermann B, Nigg BM. Pronation in runners. Implications for injuries. Sports Med. 1998;26(3):169–176.
Moen MH, Tol JL, Weir A, Steunebrink M, De Winter TC. Medial tibial stress syndrome: a critical review. Sports Med. 2009;39(7):523–546.
Willwacher at el. Effect of Heel Construction on Muscular Control Potential of the Ankle Joint in Running. J Appl Biomech, 2013;29, 740-748.
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.