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Heel Striking: Why You Should Take Notice

Do you ever think about your running form while you're running?

Maybe you've noticed that you tend to land on your heels when you strike the ground and maybe your shoes always wear out faster on the heels than anywhere else. 

Or maybe you're like most people and you've never really paid much attention to how you're running at all. 

No matter which bucket you fall into, there's a good chance that you have at least heard of the dreaded term "heel strike." 

You may have brushed it off and disregarded it, or maybe you took it incredibly seriously and starting to do whatever you could to change it. Lucky for you, this blog will shed some light on heel striking. We're going to cover why it's often feared, what the deal is with this "heel striking" thing, why you should pay attention to it, and some ideas on how you can even begin to change it.

Heel Striking vs. Mid-Foot Striking vs. Forefoot Striking

You can't really talk about heel striking unless you at least mention some of the other common striking patterns. Mid-foot striking and forefoot striking are those alternative striking patters. What makes this easy to understand are pictures! Take a look below.

As you can see in the picture above, the front runner seems to be landing with his foot contacting the ground more evenly throughout the shoe, as opposed to the 2nd runner. The 2nd runner is hitting the ground directly on his heel.

Let's dive a little deeper. In the front runner, you may notice that the runner's shin is almost vertical to the ground, there is more bend in the knee (knee flexion), and a slightly more forward trunk lean. In the 2nd runner, you'll notice the shin is not nearly as vertical, the knee is a lot straighter, and he is more upright in the running form. We'll cover why that's important down below, but first, take a look below to see some simplified pictures, including the forefoot striking pattern.

Forefoot Strike

The forefoot strike is rare in runners, but when it is present it can present problems down the road. What happens when distance runners or casual runners land on their forefoot repeatedly is a chronic over-stressing of the calf and ankle complex.

Potential Problems: Gastroc strains, achilles tendinopathy, posterior tib tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, patellar tendonitis (runner's knee) 

Mid-Foot Strike

The mid-foot strike is the second most common and is often one of the most preferred patterns. It involves almost stamping the ground with your foot and it provides or more efficient running form when compared to the forefoot or heel striking patterns. You typically have more vertical shin angle and a more forward trunk lean. This reduced ground reaction forces (which means less stress on your body) and it also makes the running gait more efficient. Runner's often feel more balanced and experience less injuries as well.

Potential Problems: Posterior tib issues, plantar fasciitis

Heel Strike

The heel strike is the most common pattern in runners, and it's not because it is the best. It is often how most every runner learns to run, as it usually a learned pattern from childhood or from new adult runners. It involves striking the heel, rolling through the mid-foot, and then pushing off of the forefoot. Runner's with the heel striking pattern have nearly two times the risk of moderate to severe injury. (article)

Potential Problems: Posterior tib Issues, stress fractures, patellar tendonitis, meniscus and MCL tears/sprains, high-hamstring tendinopathy, glute med tendinopathy, IT-Band issues.

As you can see, there are many more potential issues with heel striking runners, as compare to mid-foot striking runners.

Questions You May Be Asking Yourself...

1. Does that mean I need to shift to mid-foot?

The answer is likely yes, but it is not always yes. One running form may work well for you, but not work well for your running partner. The best way to find out is to get a Medical Running Analysis

2. Is it purely heel striking I need to worry about, or is more involved than just "do I heel strike or not."

It's absolutely more involved that just determining if you heel strike or not. Your knee angle when you heel strike the ground is important, your stride length is important, your hip stability is important, and your foot strength and stability is important. Take a look at the picture below to see what I mean about knee extension.

This runner's obviously a heel striker (one also with a hamstring issue). You can see that there is 166 degrees at her knee, which I interpret as just 14 degrees of knee flexion (180-166). Typically, 20-25 degrees of knee flexion is ideal with running. Some runners will have 10 degrees and I've even seen some with 5 degrees. Overall, this runner's form is not "bad" by any means, but there were things to work on. We began to work on these things by doing a few different things.

1. Began to shorten her stride.

2. Gave her selective cues and a running plan to help her increase her knee angle and striking pattern.

3. Equipped her body with the tools it needed to to make the change. 

The goal was to not only strengthen her hamstring and the limitations surrounding the hamstring, but to also get her into more of an efficient pattern that would set her up to reduce injury risk as she continued to run through the years.

There are many many rabbit holes to dive into when it comes to running gait, heel striking, and what do about them. However, I hope you walked away with some more understanding on this topic and even more understanding on how you run.

In a general sense, we would recommend at least getting a video running analysis to see where you stand and so that you can understand your body a bit more. If you are someone who has dealt with injuries as a runner, then changing your striking pattern should be a serious consideration.

What Do You Do Now?

Well, the best place to start is to give us a call so we can talk about some options for you. One of those will be a Medical Running Analysis, which involves breaking down your run, analyzing your body, and creating a plan to get you strong 2 run!

727-254-0880 or schedule a time to talk HERE!

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