First question: Does landing on heels while running increase the risk of injury?
Beginning runners are often reminded to land on their mid-feet or fore-feet, instead of their heels. We are accustomed to the protection provided by wearing shoes, and thus less aware of the shock absorbed by the rear-feet while walking.
However, the incremental shock during long-distance running can be detrimental. Making a mid-foot strike is believed to reduce the impact and improve runners’ speed and efficiency.
A research conducted on some 1,600 runners finds that the injury rate for forefoot strikes is more or less the same as that for rearfoot strikes.
In another research, however, it is found that the injury rate for midfoot strikes is 50 percent less. The result of this study is not as convincing as the former one because the volunteers here are all advanced runners whose forefeet are strong, arches of the foot are normal and leg muscles are flexible.
To runners with such health conditions, a midfoot or forefoot strike could store the energy in the Achilles tendon for a rebound. However, those who deliberately change from rearfoot landing to midfoot landing may get hurt.
As a matter of fact, our bodies bear the same amount of shock by any kind of landing. What matters is the transfer and allocation of the force.
Landing on heels will put more pressure on the knees, causing knee pain, while landing on mid-feet or fore-feet will put more weight on the ankles, causing plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, twisted ankles and so on.
Another question: Is using mid-feet and fore-feet more efficient?
Research shows that a rearfoot strike while walking saves 53 percent of energy. No wonder joggers tend to land on their heels.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has used a computer simulation to calculate a runner’s efficiency. According to the MIT algorithm, it is 6 percent more efficient if the runner makes rearfoot strikes rather than midfoot or forefoot strikes at the speed of one kilometer per five minutes.
Only when the speed increases to 1km under four minutes will all strikes be equally efficient. This explains why elite runners make midfoot or forefoot strikes while amateur runners land on their heels.
Runners must pay attention to their physical condition if they want to change their modes of landing.
If they have knee problems, they should adopt mid-foot landing to reduce pressure on the knees. If they have been troubled by plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, they should consider landing on the heels.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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