Shock Attenuation High in Heel Runners Despite Cushioned Heeled Shoe

The human body has it’s own natural way to minimize impact when running and that is with shock attenuation provided by the muscoluskeletal system whereby the greater the impact, the greater the need for more shock attenuation –which costs energy, too. So, it would make sense to run in a way that keeps impact low via using a forefoot strike landing.

Because impact forces are lower in forefoot running than in heel strike running, there is less need for shock attenuation, suggesting another way energy can be saved in forefoot running. In contrast, heel strike running produces an array of forces that require more shock attenuation and thus more energy to make it happen.

Shock Attenuation Higher In Heel Strike Runners

Shock Attenuation High in Heel Runners Despite Cushioned Heeled Shoe

Heel strike runners need extra help to reduce impact because they generate a higher magnitude in impact forces as compared with forefoot strike runners. Unfortunately, cushioned running shoes actually fail to help with this.

The thick cushioned heel in a running shoe fails to dampen impact peaks at heel strike, resulting in greater shock attenuation.

  • the cushioned heel reduces the impact peak by only 10% as this force occurs at a magnitude of 3 times the body weight per heel strike
  • many heel strikers over-stride which is the culprit for initiating shock attenuation

As a result, the impact peak easily penetrates through the cushioned heel, through the heel pad, and sent as a shock-wave through the body. The spreading of shock is referred to as shock attenuation.

Shock attenuation is greater in heel strike runners because the biomechanics of a heel strike may allow for unfavorable conditions for adequate shock absorption and distribution in the musculoskeletal system.  Or, the human body simply may not have adapted mechanisms to safely dissipate impact related to heel strike running.

Yet, the cushioned heel of a running shoe masks the feel of shock, allowing heel strike to feel comfortable.  However, the physiological response of the body to the impact of heel striking tells a different story.

  • to improve shock attenuation, adopting a forefoot running style reduces rapid deceleration and collision forces related to heel strike running

Finally, the mechanics of a forefoot strike running style may adequately dissipate impact due to a flatter foot-placement shortly after the forefoot contacts the ground.  As a result, the total surface area of contact increases which reduces focal pressure on the heel and decreases loading on the joints and ligament.

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References:

De Wit, B., De Clercq, D and Aerts, P. Biomechanical analysis of the stance phase during barefoot and shod running. J Biomech, 2000; 33(3):269-78.

Murphy, K., Curry, EJ and Matzkin, EG. Barefoot running: does it prevent injuries? Sports Med, 2013; 43(11): 1131-8.

Run Forefoot Because You are Faster than You think!

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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