Modern Running Shoes & Heel Striking
Some key features of the typical modern running shoe are:
- Large, flared, cushioned heel:
- Facilitates a comfortable and stable landing on the heel
- Cushions some of the impact force caused by the
foot’s collision with the ground
- Distributes the impact force over a
larger area of the rearfoot
- Arch support and stiffening elements (e.g. medial post):
- Many shoes prevent overpronation, which is the natural “rolling in” of the foot during stance (some
shoes prevent oversupination or “rolling-out”)
- Reduces the flattening of the foot's arch
Shod Runners Usually Heel Strike
Approximately 75% of shod runners heel strike (Hasegawa et al., 2007).
While we do not know the definitive reasons why the majority of shod
runners heel strike, we propose several potential explanations:
- It's comfortable. The shock-absorbing
features cushion the force of impact. The graph below compares the forces that occur at the ground for a runner landing on the heel
when barefoot (a) and in a running shoe
(b). Note the initial impact transient, a nearly
instantaneous and large increase in force that occurs as the heel comes
to a sudden stop upon impacting the ground. The shoe reduces the force by about 10%
and slows the rate of loading considerably. This, in addition to
distributing the impact force over a larger area of the rearfoot, makes it
comfortable to heel strike.
- Thicker rearfoot cushioning than forefoot cushioning.
This high heel makes it easier to
heel strike because the sole below the heel is typically about twice
as thick as the sole below the forefoot. So if your foot would
tend to land flat when barefoot, it will land on the heel when in a
- It's stable. The shoe is designed to prevent
too much movement such as pronation. This helps to make runners
feel stable in modern shoes.
Is There Anything Wrong With Heel Striking in Running Shoes?
Not necessarily! Many people like to run this way and do so without injury. But
some runners get repetitive stress injuries
each year (estimates vary from 30-75%) and one hypothesis is that heel
striking contributes to some of these injuries. We emphasize
though, that no study has shown that heel striking contributes more to
injury than forefoot striking. Read on to learn more about