Does Foot Form Explain Running Injuries?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Harvard University’s men’s and women’s distance running squads track their injuries. A recent study examined four years’ data and found that foot form explains running injuries rather well:

No one is always a forefoot striker or a heel striker. Your form depends on many factors, including your speed, the terrain, whether you’re tired and so on. But most of us have a predominant strike pattern, and so it was with the 52 Harvard runners. Thirty-six, or 69 percent of them, were heel strikers, while 16, or 31 percent, were forefoot strikers. The proportions were similar regardless of gender.

More interesting was the distribution of injuries. About two-thirds of the group wound up hurt seriously enough each year to miss two or more training days. But the heel strikers were much more prone to injury, with a twofold greater risk than the forefoot strikers.

This finding, the first to associate heel striking with injury, is likely to fuel the continuing and not-always civil debate about whether barefoot running is better. (It hurts to hit the ground with your heel if you’re not wearing shoes.)

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