Foot strike and running injuries

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. πŸ™‚

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7 Responses to Foot strike and running injuries

  1. runrodrun says:

    Glad to hear that the change in foot strike is working so well for you Woody!

    From what I’ve read your assessment is correct in that forefoot striking transfers the force of impact to the calves and away from the knees. As a result calve injuries are more common to FFS compared to RFS. The caveats to changing to a FFS technique being: do so gradually, and make sure you stretch and strengthen your calves to ready them for the work they have to do.

    • twsobey says:

      Thanks for the feedback. I wish I’d talked to you before making the transition… that first 3-4 mile run felt fine, until suddenly it didn’t. It was a long 1.5 miles home. πŸ˜‰

      You’re a FFS runner, right? (I’m guessing with a cadence of 210+, you’d almost have to be). Did you transition to it or always run on your forefoot?

      • runrodrun says:

        You know I never gave it much thought to be honest. I might still be a heel striker, odd as that may be given my very high cadence (thanks for remembering πŸ˜ƒ). I just wanted to shorten my stride ☺️

        Are you wearing minimalist shoes or a more transitional shoe that helps runners move from RFS to FFS? I hear the transitional shoes can make all the difference.

      • twsobey says:

        For the last few years, I’ve been running in different shoes in the Brooks Pure series. I guess they’re transitional shoes. I tried Vibram Five Fingers but wanted a little more shoe than that. Now I look for (inexpensive) light-weight, zero-drop shoes. I’ve rarely had problems with shoes so I just get whatever pair is available and don’t worry about it.

        Also, I agree that shortening one’s stride can help with a lot of issues.

  2. Susan says:

    Interesting read. I have a mild case of PF in my right heel and am debating whether or not to take time off running to let it heel ( I dread this as I NEED to run!). I am stretching a lot and icing when I need it and rolling a ball under my arch when sitting. Do you think I should stop running for it to heal?Any tips?

    • twsobey says:

      I’ve been lucky enough to never get plantar fasciitis so I don’t have personal experience here. That said, I would definitely cut down on the miles, but whether that means completely stopping or just reducing miles would depend on how bad the PF is. Also, I’d look at your form. I know some people who’ve had success decreasing their PF by adjusting their running form from heel strike to forefoot running. Good luck. It can be very frustrating when your body won’t do what you want it to.

  3. Pingback: Foot Strike (New Research) | A Boise Runner's Ramblings

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