Several years ago, I started getting back into running. I have been running (somewhat competitively) since I was about 12, but after leaving my college cross-country team, I didn’t really run much for fun. When I began to increase my miles, I was worried about knee and ankle injuries I’d had before.
I heard anecdotes about other runners changing their form and reducing injuries so thought it was worth a try. I shortened my stride, increased my cadence and started landing more on the ball of my foot. It felt funny and my calves screamed. My thinking was that I was transferring the impact force from my knees to my calves. My sister-in-law is a physical therapist so when I cornered her at Thanksgiving, I asked what she thought about it. “Well, that could be what’s happening, but there’s not much research on the topic currently.” I’m pretty sure that was her kind way of say “Wow, your family has so many crackpot ideas about health and biomechanics, I don’t know where to start, but keep doing it if it makes you happy”
Since making the switch, I haven’t had any real issues with injuries related to running. A few niggles here or there, some road rash from falling and a broken rib which slowed my running, but so far, no ankle or knee issues.
I was content just knowing that forefoot running was working for me. If new runners asked, I’d mention that I made the change and that it seemed to be helping with injuries. I’d also discussed it with my dad who is the other family member throwing biomechanical questions at my sister-in-law. Then last week, I stumbled on a study (PDF) about running foot-strike and injury rates.
In terms of the general category of repetitive stress injuries, the pooled sample of RFS (rear foot strike) runners was 2.6 times more likely to have mild injuries and 2.4 times more likely to have moderate injuries. When moderate and severe injuries are pooled, RFS runners had an overall injury rate that was nearly twofold higher than what FFS (fore foot strike) runners had (P = 0.04).
This study is a few years old now and I’m sure there will be more research on both sides of the argument in the next few years, but it’s exciting to see some research backing up what seems to be holding true for me. Plus it will give me something fun to discuss at the next family gathering. 🙂