Barefoot running has been getting a lot of attention the past few years as a way to decrease running injuries. Barefoot (or forefoot) running is thought to lower impact forces when your foot hits the ground and may decrease risk of injury, but for New Yorkers the thought of running barefoot around Central Park isn't exactly thrilling (or safe)! Luckily for us, a recent study concluded that changing to a mid or forefoot strike does not improve running economy and also does not reduce the risk of running-related injuries.
Hamill et al. hoped to challenge evidence that a change in foot strike pattern was more economical, caused a reduction in impact peak and loading rate of the vertical component of the ground reaction force, reduced the risk of running related injuries. Their paper examined these reasons for changing foot strike pattern and addressed alternate explanations and contradictory evidence.
Several studies the authors examined found no difference in oxygen uptake between rear foot and fore foot running. They also found that changing to a forefoot running pattern could increase oxygen consumption for habitual rear foot runners, creating an uneconomical gait pattern. Additionally, the authors found that there was contradictory evidence that high vertical ground reaction forces increase risk of injury. For example, rear foot running places a higher demand on knee muscles and structure while forefoot running increase demand on the ankle and foot structures.
The authors concluded that there is no obvious benefit or research to support changing foot strike pattern for the majority of runners. Many of the studies they examined are limited in sample size and do not include runners who switch foot strike pattern prior to sustaining an injury.
Before you plan on changing your foot strike pattern, stop and ask yourself why you want to make this change. Then, seek out a professional (like us!) for a gait analysis. There's no such thing as the perfect way to run, but we can help you be a perfectly good runner!
Hamill, J., & Gruber, A. (2017). Is changing footstrike pattern beneficial to runners? Journal of Sport and Health Science, 1-8.
Lisbeth Hoyt, PT, DPT