Is Heel Striking Bad For Your Achilles?

Heel striking when running has demonstrated a track record of causing all types of Achilles injuries because the heel-to-toe movement path of the foot that occurs after heel strike causes the foot to shift abruptly into extreme positions, even in a motion-control stability running shoe.

Is Heel Striking Bad For Your Achilles?

In a study published in Clinical Sports Medicine discovered that heel striking when running caused a heel whipping motion which altered ankle moments that caused Achilles injury.

Other studies (references below article) have found another way heel striking causes Achilles tendon injury: Landing heel-first was found to overwork the hips through all phases of gait, namely the propulsive phase, which put additional strain on the Achilles. This is because heel striking caused the hips to be used too much to make the foot aggressively push the entire weight of the body forward through each step. This excessive push-off from the foot was found to over-strain the Achilles.

The researchers also believe that this mechanical load causes the ankles to pick up the slack for when the hips fatigue (from being overworked), which could put additional stress on the Achilles, too.

This is why switching from heel strike to forefoot strike running should be of interest because forefoot striking engages the hips in a different, more functional manner.

Of significance, landing forefoot-first was found to bend the knee slightly at landing, while causing the torso to tilt slightly forward (shown below). This mechanical arrangement has the hallmark effect of creating a free-fall, where the body is better able to continuously fall forward, which was found to reduce work-loads off the hip, while less muscle effort is needed from the foot and the leg to propel the body forward. 

What Running Style is Best for Your Knees?
The farther you land away from your heel while running, toward the front of your foot, striking on the balls of the foot, will make your knee slightly bend and your torso tilt slightly forward. This creates a ‘free-fall’ effect because of the forward lean of the torso, while the knee bend positions the foot closer to your hips. This keeps your stride mechanics in a safer range, since there’s also no over-stride. In this way, the hips are prevented from being over-worked, and so is the Achilles. 

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All these key stride parameters are engaged by running with a forefoot strike, but are impeded, and reversed for the worst when a heel strike landing is used: 

Is Heel Striking Bad For Your Achilles?
The reason that you cant overcome your Achilles pain is you may be running like this, shown above. The farther back you land on your heel, the more your stride extends ahead of your body, the more this causes your torso to push back behind initial foot strike position. The vulnerability of the Achilles stems from the excessive push force at the foot, where the foot and hips are used intensively to push the body through the over-stride. An over-stride is when the foot lands too far ahead of the torso, which is always the case in a heel strike landing, but not in a forefoot strike landing.

The list of things that can go wrong with heel strike running outweighs to that of forefoot running. Forefoot running produces more forward thrust with less muscular effort from the foot and hips. This key difference helps safeguard the Achilles from injury, while resulting in a larger surface area to contact the ground of which impact is able to spread over a larger area of the foot, which was found to do a better job at protecting the foot from injury than heel strike running. 

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In fact, here are well-over 30 evidence-backed reasons heel strike running is the most damaging and inefficient way to run, whereas forefoot running perfectly prevents all the injuries caused by heel strike running!

If you’ve enjoyed this video, you’ll love my YouTube channel, here, where I show why and how forefoot running works!


[1]. Smith et al. Neuromotor control of gluteal muscles in runners with Achilles tendinopathy. Med Sci Sport Exerc, 2014;46(3):594-599.

[2]. Kahn et al. The painful nonruptured tendon: clinical aspects. Clin Sports Med, 2003 (22):711-725.

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!