Feet, we love them, how clever are they as a structure! 😀They are designed to flex and move to allow them to dissipate all those forces we put through them. When we run we put a lot of force through those feet and how we strike the floor, when we run, really affects how far up the body those forces travel.
Let's think about this a bit further. Most runners use shoes that have a reasonable amount of cushioning in the heel. The thinking behind this was that if we could stride out further, we could run faster. The issue is that if you stride out, your leg hits the floor in front of your body and therefore, inevitably you will land on your heel. If you land on your heel bone or calcaneus to give it the correct name, it will hurt! The calcaneus isn't designed to withstand the forces of running and hence the cushioning increased in running shoes to allow for this. But sadly so did running injuries with shin splints being a classic example of this. So let's take a look at the raw foot, no shoe to assist, just as is would have been before shoes existed.... we ran then, we ran a lot, the foot has everything within it to allow you to run without pain.... 😀
So if we aren't supposed to run on our heel, how are we supposed to land? Well take a look at the picture of the foot above.... see all those bones and joints, those are what dissipate forces, along with the plantar ligaments and muscles. The arch of your foot is there for a reason, it flattens under force to help dissipate the force. Those bones move and flex and the number of joints allow force to be dissipated across them.
Let's imagine you land on your calcaneus, there are only two joints within the foot to dissipate the force, the tibiocalacaneal and tibiotalar joints. After that, the forces head into the lower leg, then the knee and finally the hip. Which is why shin splints are an injury very much associated with the heel strike. Similarly, more knee problems are noted with the heel strike and this is probably due to the forces that are occurring through these structures, each time the foot hits the floor.
So is there another way to strike the floor? Well perhaps consider the mid foot strike.... NOT a toe strike, a mid foot strike, where you land over the arch of your foot. With this strike, the mid foot hits the floor and absorbs the forces. But with the mid foot strike we have 5 metatarsals and 5 tarsals, as well as the tibiocalacaneal and tibiotalar joints to absorb the forces before it never leaves the foot. So that is 12 joints rather than the 2 we had for the heel strike. And that means very little force makes it out of the foot to travel up the leg. As a result, fewer leg, knee and hip problems are associated with the mid foot strike.
Be aware, though, modern feet tend to be very weak. The muscles are used to relying on shoes to provide stability and this is why so many people pronate or complain of weak arches. Running with a midfoot strike will help to strengthen those foot muscles but if the foot pronates when you land, it will still cause pain up the leg. Simple foot strengthening exercises really help here, so while encouraging your client to start running with more of a midfoot strike, also include some foot strengthening work into their gym program. Basic heel raises help to strengthen tibialis posterior, a very important muscle in the support of the arch. Similarly towel scrunching exercises help to strengthen those foot muscles.
If you are using this for CPD take another look at the foot, remind yourself of the bones, muscles and ligaments in the area. Try to complete the question: Why might your running client, who heel strikes and has a pronated foot, have pain in their hip? Think through the bio mechanical line to work out why the hip is receiving forces that are not optimal. Then write it all up in your CPD log. For your FREE Reinge Education CPD log, click here and sign up to our newsletter. If you get stuck, send us an email and we will help you. 😀
If this was of interest we have a Bitesize CPD on Runners Knee and a one day workshop where we explain the forces involved in running and teach you how to analyse running gait looking at the body from top to toe.