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Panic!  This Runner is heel striking! or is she?

These days you can't turn a page in a running mag without someone telling us how we should be running based on evolution, animal behaviors or energy fields. Please appreciate that this is just my own interpretation as to why each running style brings it's own advantages and disadvantages. 

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I would imagine that we are all in agreement that the runner in image 1 is definitely, without a doubt heel striking. Apparently, heel striking is one of the most common reasons behind knee pain because when you heel strike, your knee straightens and locks to help create a rigid lever to propel you forward. Anything that is locked 1700 steps a mile will make to vulnerable to wear and tear, arthritis is a wear and tear injury. Considering that most of us tend to run in this manner, the most important thing I firstly wish to say is don't panic! Although this is the typical image that an in store running analyst would use to determine which running shoe they should be selling you, it's important to take into account a few minor details:

  • Firstly, notice a shadow underneath her foot and especially underneath her heel, this would suggest that she hasn't actually made contact with the ground as yet, so therefore a little premature to be confirming she is heel striking.
  • Notice also that, prior to her heel making contact, how her knee on the landing leg (right) is looking nice and flexed, not straight and locked, just nice and healthy and flexed! 

Alas as common as it is for health professionals to jump in too quickly and assume that this runner is going to have a future of knee pain associated with such heel striking technique, the next image may bring you a little closer to understanding what really is going on...

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Image 2 Actual Initial Contact-  

  • Notice how the foot has now planted on the ground nice and even across the entire foot. The shadow has now disappeared from under the foot to confirm that the foot is commencing deceleration on that leg. 
  • Notice how the knee remains nice and flexed, nice and healthy and flexed. 

Image 3 shows the runner Midstance, 

The foot is directly underneath the body, the leg and foot is fully weight baring. Notice a really nice running technique coming into play here, good hamstring flexion (nice 90 degree angle denoting good muscle balance and efficiency) every limb has remained flexed thoughout her running style, seems this runner has good reason to be happy and injury free.  

Asking you again, do you still think this runner is heel striking and at risk of knee pain associated with 'heel striking'?   

 

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Time and time again, we have runners of all levels visit StrideUK who have concerns that they have an injury through heel striking, only to find that they aren't actually heel striking in a manner to cause any harm to their knees what so ever. Most knee injuries we find actually stem from the hips down rather than what your feet are doing. Further more, if you are prescribed a running shoe based on a suggested heel strike, chances being they will give you a shoe that has a disproportionate cushioning in the heel, which inturn will make you appear to heel strike even more. 

To summarise - 
It is completely wrong to generalise that heel striking is always bad for you, just like it's completely wrong to generalise that forefoot running is always right for you. Each technique can be just as beneficial based on the individual biomechanics the runner has. 


Use these to read further spotlights

Heel Striking
Forefoot running
Minimalist running
Walking lunges
Pelvic instability
Hamstring strengthening
Why stretch
Runners knee ITB
Single leg squats
Glutes, are you standing comfortably?
Squat test
Migrating to a minimalist shoe
Richard Whitehead Paralympic 200m
Medial Shin Splints
The cumulative effect
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