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Will changing my foot strike reduce my risk of a running injury?

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I was recently interviewed by CBC television news about foot strike patterning. The reporter, Kim Brunhuber, who is an avid runner, wanted me to clarify which strike pattern is best for recreational runners as there are so many conflicting stories and theories circulating today. He was particularly interested if recreational runners could reduce their chance of injury if they switched from their natural strike pattern. Here’s what I shared with him.

Foot strike refers to how and where your foot hits the ground when you are running. Runners who “heel strike” land on their heels, “mid-foot strikers” and “forefoot strikers” land on the middle/front of their feet. Today, 95 per cent of runners naturally choose a heel strike pattern. Contrary to what many people think, the natural heel strike pattern is just fine – there isn’t one technique that is correct for everyone. Studies of the top marathoners in the world reveal they all land differently. In reality, one of the best ways to injure a recreational runner is to ask a natural heel striker to run on their mid-foot.

The interest in foot strike stems from force and the role it plays in the development of injuries. If you are a heel striker, the force will be felt on the front of your leg, and through your knee and hip. However, if you are a mid-foot striker the force will land on the back of your leg. If you want to reduce your risk of running injuries don’t try to adjust your natural foot strike. Instead, work on decreasing your running stride length by 10 per cent and increasing your gait by 10 per cent. These small adjustments will decrease your force impact by approximately 20 per cent and in turn your chance of injury.

In addition to advising runners to leave their natural foot strike alone, I also recommend they seek the advice of a trained professional, like a Canadian Certified Pedorthist, when considering the purchase of minimalist shoes or barefoot running. Although these trends have both experienced popularity in recent years, there is no concrete evidence they reduce injuries. A Canadian Certified Pedorthist can advise you which running shoes are best for your foot type and gait and if you require a foot orthotic.

If you’d like to see my full interview with CBC please visit http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/heel-strike-avoidance-for-runners-reconsidered-1.2645915.

By Ryan Robinson, C. Ped (C), Barrie, ON

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