Heel Strike Running Causes Bone Pain

The best way to prevent running-related bone pain and injury is to correct your heel strike to a forefoot strike landing because heel strike running produces an assortment of impacts that were found to account for major bone injuries.

How to Fix Lower Back Pain From Running: Fix Your Foot Strike!
Ample research confirms and reaffirms that foot strike matters in running because forefoot running (above left) effectively stops the inflow of nearly all the injurious impacts and physical stressors produced by heel strike running (above right). This is because landing with a forefoot strike naturally engages an optimal, safer sequence of mechanics that includes safer shin and knee-joint angles that engages a shorter stride and a higher cadence, while forcing your upper body (center mass) more forward. The net effect of this is the avoidance of high compressive loads on the bones because the high brake force common in heel strike running is greatly minimized.

In running, the amount of bone deformation contributing to bone stress depends on the loading magnitude [1] which is directly influenced by foot strike whereby a heel strike landing relates to higher rates of bone loading than forefoot running.

Over the past decade, a large body of evidence has verified that forefoot running produces real benefits that does the most good in protecting the bones long-term because the impact transient (burst of high impact) of the ground reaction force and mechanical overloading are significantly reduced, thereby cutting down the risk of repetitive bone strain and injury.

Does Foot Strike Matter When Running?
Landing with a forefoot strike is directly involved in eliminating the bone-cracking burst in collisional impact most responsible for long bone injuries, such shin and femur fracture as compared with heel strike running, which is the biggest producer of this impact.

Strain, is a function of bone stress [2], and it’s very evident that forefoot running engages additional mechanical outputs, such as a higher cadence and a foot strike position closer to the center mass (torso), that does much more to reduce bone strain than heel strike running, or relying on thick cushioned running shoes for added protection [3].

By impact standards, bone strain is greater at touchdown in heel strike running because the center mass is always farther behind foot strike position, which increases joint and bone compression, and increases strain on the longer bones [4].

Is Forefoot Running Better for Your Legs than Heel Strike Running? Yes!
Initial foot strike position in heel strike running (above left) increases bone strain, especially at faster running speeds and over long distances because landing heel-first excessively elongates your stride upon landing. This causes a significant over-reach of the foot, causing the foot to land too far ahead of the center mass, which increases mechanical loads on the bones because the center mass comes to a crashing halt with the stance leg for too long. This is why forefoot running has significant appeal in being better for injury prevention because an over-stride is prevented, along with the accompanying prolong high-impact braking. Landing forefoot-first does the most good in bringing your collective mechanics back into balance.

The hard truth is heel strike runners have the highest risk of experiencing abnormal bone loading and strain because these runners produce the highest amounts of the vertical ground reaction force (high burst in prolonged collisional impact) and peak accelerations (opposing forces on the bones). Worse still,  the excessive loading in heel strike running exacerbates bone stress in runners with maligned limbs who would otherwise benefit from forefoot running due to the less loading factor.

Last but not least, running uphill also poses problems for a heel strike runner as it farther impairs the load-bearing capacity of the bone, thereby accelerating bone strain and micro-damage accumulation!

Given what we know about the alarming link between heel strike running and bone injury, there’s really no good reason not to switch to forefoot running because there’s very little, if not, no convincing evidence against the protective benefits of forefoot running. In fact, here are over 20 reasons forefoot running is better than heel strike running in every way!

Unsure how to forefoot strike when running? Here’s a YouTube video I made showing how to land on your forefoot and why!

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[1]. Brunker et al. Stress fractures: a review of 180 cases. Clin J Sport Med, 1996; 6:85-89.

[2]. Hamil et al. Variations in ground reaction force parameters at different running speeds. Hum Mov Sci, 1983; 2:47-56.

[3]. Milner et al. Biomechanical factors associated with tibial stress fractures in female runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2006; 38:323-328

[4]. Warde, SJ., Davis, IS and Fredericson, M. Management and prevention of bone stress injuries in long distance runners. J Orthop Sports Phys Therapy, 2014; 44(10):749 – 817.

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!