Is Forefoot Running Safe?

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RUMOR: Forefoot running is safer than rearfoot running
TRUTH: Not always

Sometimes forefoot running is effective and leads to fewer injuries than rearfoot running.  However, the majority of us are not forefoot runners.  Surveys indicate that between 72% and 94% of us are rearfoot runners, or strike the ground on the rear of the foot.  These numbers take into account the range of runners, from barefoot runners in Kenya to marathoners in Wisconsin.  

It is important to know that research does NOT show any significant correlation between overall instances of injury and how the foot strikes the ground, regardless if it is forefoot or rearfoot.  But you might see some differences in the TYPES of running injuries correlated to the style of foot striking.  Rearfoot strikers may suffer tibial stress injuries, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and iliotibial band syndrome.  Forefoot strikers might have an increased prevalence of metatarsal stress fractures.  

Each running style has its own risks and benefits. Debunk the myth that forefoot striking is the best.  Both running styles can be entirely safe if done correctly.  However, there may occasionally be a need for a runner to change their gait pattern from rearfoot strike to forefoot strike.  One potential reason would be due to a specific injury, like knee pain, or patellofemoral pain syndrome.  To make the best decision on which running style is right for you, seek a video running analysis to understand your running gait pattern.  What we care about is continued learning and providing runners with the tools to run better, faster, and safer.

Justin Jellin, DPT, ART
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Program Director

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References:
Larson et al, 2011 J Sports Science
Kasmer et al, 2012 Int J Sports Physiol Perform
Hasagawa et al 2007 J Strength Cond Res
Hatala et al, 2013 PLOS One

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