Heel Strike Running Causes Toe Injury

The thing most runners want to know is how to avoid injury. Notably, does foot strike pattern (heel strike vs forefoot strike) influence injury? Yes.

Injury trends are more commonly seen in heel strike running because the mechanical components of this running style causes certain aspects of your stride to be pushed out of the natural movement pattern, while increasing impact severity as compared with forefoot running.

heel striking over striding
Landing heel-first when running causes stride length to be too long, crossover footsteps, longer ground-contact time and over-pronation, all of which are proven to quickly make  you injury-prone, and even uneconomical.

On the basis of scientific evidence (references below article), heel strike running will almost surely injure your toes because of the excessive push- force from the toes to initiate flight into the next step, shown below

Heel Strike Running Causes Toe Injury
After the heel strikes the ground, the foot rolls heel-to-toe, where the toes are aggressively used to push the entire weight of the foot into the next step. This was found to over-strain the toes, resulting in localized swelling over the metatarsal heads and toes, shown below:

How to Avoid Toe Injury When Forefoot Running

The toe-propulsion in heel strike running was found to increase bending moments beyond tolerance on the toes, while plantar pressure in the forefoot raised to pain-inducing levels. Another bad outcome from this was increases in dorsal bending moments and dorsal compression strains put additional burdens on the foot.

The key to preventing this injury is to change your foot strike from a heel strike to a forefoot strike because the aggressive toe push-off component does not occur in forefoot running. This is because landing on the front part of your foot causes a change in your knee mechanics and upper body posture whereby the knee-joint bends at landing and the upper body leans slightly forward, shown below:

Forefoot running does not rely on the little toes to propel the entire weight of the body to initiate flight, rather the combination of tilting forward with the torso and a safer knee angle at landing are prominent features of forefoot running associated with the most improvements in toe strain and forefoot loading. 

More specifically, the knee-bend at landing allows the foot to land closer to the body, which automatically pulls the upper body forward, and you stand to gain a lot from this because for one, it reduces the time spent braking, which means the body weight loads less intensively down onto the foot during stance. For another, it enhances the energy-saving spring system of the foot-ankle complex which enables the foot to spring up with greater ease, instead of using costly muscular efforts to remove the foot from the ground. This accounts for the lack of injurious strain on the toes, while reducing forefoot loading, and saves energy.

Landing with a forefoot strike is more economical because it gives you more access to spring energy from the arch and Achilles. This enables the muscles and ligaments to work less to propel the body forward.

The Take Home Message

These findings are a big shift from the long-held assumption that running form doesn’t matter, and if you get injured when running, it’s because you’re just not made for running. But, thanks to a new branch of research focusing on the importance of foot strike pattern in running, anyone can run, but the forefoot strike is a major mechanical adjustment that needs to be made, largely because it does a better job at improving movement health of the knee, while improving step responses and preventing misalignments of the foot and leg.

Need more convincing that forefoot running is better than heel strike running? Here are all the evidence-based reasons proving that forefoot running is not only safer, but is more economical and therefore faster across ALL distances than heel strike running!

Last but not least, if you enjoyed my blog post, you’ll love my YouTube channel, here, where I show why forefoot running works better for everyone!


Goldman, JP., Potthast, W., and Gert, P. 2012. Athletic training in minimalist footwear strengthens toe flexors. Footwear Science, 5(1):19,25.

Run forefoot, because you are faster than you think!

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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