One of the best changes to your running form is to switch from heel striking to forefoot striking because mounting confirming evidence shows that forefoot running provides better protection against damaging impacts on the shins, knees and back.
One intriguing discovery found that landing on ahead of the arch, closer to the toes during running reduced loading on the lumbar spine as compared to heel strike running. These findings came from a 2013 study in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise which found that when heel strike runners ran barefoot and landed ahead of the arch of the foot, reduced leg impact at contact as well as shock attenuation. This means that there was less shock produced and therefore less shock was needed to be absorbed by the lumbar lordosis.
- The lumbar lordosis serves as a natural shock absorber during running. The researchers found that toe striking reduced leg shock at touchdown, sparing the lumbar lordosis of elevated shock.
The researchers also pointed out that the toe strike landing led to positional changes in the lower back and pelvis during running.
- A change in stride length, such as reduced stride length in toe strike running, caused positional changes in the pelvis that corresponded to lumbar lordosis changes.
Heel Strike Running: Bad News for the Back
In the same study, the heel strike runners had greater overall foot-ground impact than the toe strike runners, resulting in more shock that is attenuated by the lumbar lordosis. This finding is not the first to suggest that heel strike running is bad for the back.
In addition, the heel strike runners had greater overall low back excursion which may inflict a sizable demand for stability in the lumbar spine, according to the researchers.
The Take Home Message
The study’s findings were encouraging: the farther you land away from the heel when running, the lesser the risk of the weakening of the shock-absorbing structures in the back.
Moreover, these findings represent a watershed moment in biomechanical research on running, clearly demonstrating the possibly both forefoot running and toe strike running prevents or at least, delays impact-induced degenerative changes to the back.
More From Run Forefoot:
Barefoot Running Improves Balance – The WRONG type of running shoe destabilizes mechanics and how barefoot running can easily help.
Running Shoes and Injuries – Minimalist, or barefoot-like running shoes reduce injury compared to the traditional running shoe.
Femur Fracture – Landing with a heel strike can literally break the strongest bone in the body.
Running with Music – Did you know that runners run best when they hear a pattern? Find out why running with music is not such a bad thing after all.
Running Shoes – My reviews on the minimalist shoes I feel are best for forefoot running.
Delgado et al. Effects of foot strike on low back posture, shock attenuation, and comfort in running. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2013;45(3):490-6.
Driscoll C, Aubin CE, Labelle H, Dansereau J. The relationship between hip flexion/extension and the sagittal curves of the spine. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2008;140:90–5.
Franz JR, Paylo KW, Dicharry J, Riley PO, Kerrigan DC. Changes in the coordination of hip and pelvis kinematics with mode of locomotion. Gait Posture. 2009;29:494–8.
Uetake T, Ohtsuki F, Tanaka H, Shindo M. The vertebral curvature of sportsmen. J Sports Sci. 1998;16:621–8.
Voloshin A, Wosk J. An in vivo study of low back pain and shock absorption in the human locomotor system. J Biomech. 1982;15:21–7.
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.