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Form, footwear, and running injuries

What makes up good form is debatable, but one thing is clear — the basics of foot strike, cadence, and posture all combine for a basic starting point that may help most runners avoid injuries, regardless of the type of shoe they choose to wear. What’s interesting, is that these aspects of running are quite a bit different than in walking. The direction force and the center of gravity in runners is different than in walkers, and too many new runners try to simply take their walking style and speed it up in an effort to run — leading to disappointing, frustrating injuries.

Research has shown that cross-country runners who have a heel strike pattern when running tend to suffer significantly more injuries than their counterparts who have a forefoot strike pattern. The same is true among runners who prefer barefoot (quite literally running without shoes, also called unshod) or minimalist (toe-shoes, ultralight, or lightweight running shoes) running and among elite runners. In fact, barefoot, minimalist, and elite runners typically develop a forefoot strike naturally as their running style develops. Simply put, the human body is designed to move toward a forefoot strike when speeding up, and particularly when running unshod or in minimalist footwear, thus putting the body into the most natural position possible through the running motion.

Runners who have a heel strike as part of their running style are putting excess force on the subtalar joint (the part of the ankle that allows almost a rocking motion of the foot during the stride). This joint simply isn’t designed for such brute force and isn’t able to efficiently or evenly distribute it through the rest of the foot and the lower leg. As a result, the foot in a heel strike pattern loses its shock absorbing abilities.

Learning to run with a forefoot strike, however, alleviates this problem, as the ball of the foot and the midfoot are able to work together to absorb the pressure and force as the foot meets the ground, distributing it evenly throughout the foot and into the lower leg. The amount of pronation and supination is greatly stabilized with a forefoot strike — reducing the risk of a number of running injuries.

Just as a forefoot strike has been found to be significantly more common among elite runners, so too is an increased cadence, or rather the number of steps taken per minute. Elite runners with a higher cadence and forefoot strike tend to be naturally closer to the ground with shorter strides, reducing the vertical force on the body and thus, again, transmitting force from the forefoot more efficiently throughout the feet and legs.

Finally, overall posture is an important component in running safety and preventing injuries. For some runners, switching to a forefoot strike and increased cadence may naturally correct running posture. The forefoot strike naturally causes the entire body to angle slightly forward, thus increasing momentum while decreasing downward force.

If you are a runner, whether experienced or not, take a moment to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist at Kansas City Foot Specialists by calling us today at (913) 338-4440. As an annual sponsor of the annual Easter Egg 5k in Overland Park, benefiting Marillac in its mission to support at-risk children and families, Kansas City Foot Specialists understands the determination and dedication of runners. We hope to keep you going, one foot in front of the other for years to come.