There are many aspects of running form worth discussing, but let’s specifically address “foot strike.”  When running, the foot can hit the ground in different areas: rearfoot, mid-foot, or forefoot.  One heavily debated topic is rearfoot versus forefoot striking, and which (if either) is better for healthy running.

Heel Striking

The evidence (or lack there-of) indicates that there is no strong inclination towards one form or the other.  Historically, heel striking has received more criticism than forefoot striking due to the excessive loading of the small heel bone and the “braking” force applied to it.  One study found that landing on the heel is associated with increased strain through the “anterior compartment” or shin of the leg, corresponding with symptoms of shin splints.  Another study found that rear-foot strikers also had a significantly greater risk of developing knee pain, than non-rear foot strikers.  Despite these findings however, 75% of elite marathoners are heel strikers!  So, that leads us to question how bad heel-striking really is.

Forefoot Striking

There certainly is more evidence supporting the benefits of forefoot striking, and transitioning one’s form, especially if suffering from chronic lower extremity pain.  One study found that subjects with chronic anterior compartment syndrome, were able to avoid surgical intervention, by adapting a forefoot running gait pattern.  Another study found that in subjects with chronic knee pain, learning how to land on the forefoot led to decreased knee pain, thereby reducing strain on the patellar tendon.  The problem with forefoot striking is that it heavily increases activation of the calf, or gastrocnemius, muscle, which can lead to tightness and Achilles tendon issues.  It can also increase the chance of developing metatarsal stress fractures, and is not recommended for someone who has a history of such injuries.

Interestingly, most runners are not able to predict their foot strike pattern; which is yet another reason why a running form evaluation and education is so important.  We can help you figure out what is best for you!