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Foot strike….fore foot, mid foot, heel strike, does it really matter?

I’ve been spending a lot of time online recently, reading about foot strike in runners….I realise this makes me sound quite sad! But there is so much information out there, with some fantastic online contributions from experts in the area. So to offer a little summary of what the current consensus is, I’ve decided to write this week’s blog on foot strike…watch out exciting stuff ahead!

 

To simplify things, it is widely believed, and marketed, that traditional shoes are associated with heel striking and barefoot/minimalist shoes are associated with mid/forefoot striking. And again to generalise, the belief is that heel striking is bad and mid/forefoot is good. A sweeping statement indeed! However it is more accurate to say that different strike patterns load different tissues, and it cannot be generalised or simplified to stating that one is either “good” or ”bad”. Each strike pattern carries a higher risk of certain injuries.

 

Let’s start with heel striking. The current thinking among runners is that traditional running shoes promote a heel strike due to their chunky heel. And in the past 10 years traditional shoes and heel striking have become something of a “dirty topic”. Who dares heel strike these days?? Well… It is estimated that approximately 75% of runners do. Heel striking is not wrong, however is thought to be associated with a greater risk of anterior compartment syndrome, tibial stress fractures and knee pain. That does not mean all heel strikers suffer from these though.

 

As for mid/forefoot, you would be forgiven for thinking that the whole world is running like this due to the hype around both, however the reality is very different. Forefoot is somewhat of a buzz word in running, perhaps becoming less popular these days as runners struggle to transition and they realise that it carries it’s own risk of injuries. Forefoot striking is associated with an increased risk of metatarsal stress fractures, calf pain and Achilles’ tendon injury. But again not all forefoot strikers will suffer these.

 

Really the truth is there is no perfect running technique, no “one size fits all”. I’ll use a quick example to finish this off. Take a runner who has a history of Achilles’ tendon pain, but hasn’t bothered him in a few years. He reads all the magazines and online blogs of fellow runners and decides that forefoot running is the way to go. However as you now know forefoot striking is associated with increased loading in the calf muscles, and so when he commences forefoot training his pain is aggravated.  In this case changing this runner’s style to forefoot may be detrimental!

In summary no landing pattern is ideal, no “one fits all” running style is suitable. There is a place for all types of foot strikes and the coaching of each may be very beneficial to some but perhaps detrimental to others. No matter what, if changing your technique, transitioning is key, and this takes time and patience.


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