Competitive distance runners train hard, sometimes to the point of injury. Does a runner’s running form affect the likelihood of injury? In an interesting study just published online, researchers say yes – at least in terms of how the runner’s foot strikes the ground. The researchers analyzed data for mileage run, running pace, and injuries sustained by the members of Harvard University’s men’s and women’s distance running teams over a four-year period. They also videotaped each runner to determine their predominant “foot-strike style” – either heel-first or toe-first.
Nearly 3/4 of the group was injured each year. And when the researchers analyzed who was getting injured and what type of injuries were sustained, they found that the predominantly heel-strikers were twice as likely to suffer from repetitive stress injuries than were the predominantly toe-strikers. Interestingly, the type of shoe worn (well-padded versus minimal racing flats) didn’t seem to matter.
The researchers say they don’t know why the heel-strikers suffer more repetitive stress injuries, but they speculate that it may be because of a greater peak of impact energy when the heel strikes the ground first than when the toes strike first. And they’re not suggesting that heel-runners switch their running style unless they’re getting injured frequently, and then only if they’re willing to retrain slowly. After all, doing something unnatural and different could make matters worse.