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No benefit to changing strike pattern, researchers say

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Can changing your foot strike pattern when running reduce the risk of injury?

Most runners instinctively strike the ground with their heels first, except when sprinting. But heel striking has had a bad press in recent years and some coaches and health professionals have recommended switching from heel to midfoot or forefoot striking in a bid to avoid shin splints, sore knees and other injuries.

However, with similar overall injury rates among rearfoot, forefoot and midfoot runners, is there any benefit to changing the way you run?

New research from La Trobe University in Australia suggests there is no evidence that running on the front of the feet reduces injury risk or improves performance.

“We analysed 53 studies which looked at the impact of forefoot, rearfoot and flatfoot running patterns on injury, running economy and running biomechanics,” explained Dr Christian Barton, senior author of the study.

“Our comprehensive review suggests that telling someone to run on the ball of their foot instead of their heel may make them less efficient, at least in the short term. Additionally, there is no evidence either way on whether running on the balls of your feet reduces injury.”

While switching your running style shifts the body’s loads, it doesn’t make them disappear, Dr Barton pointed out.

“Running toe-heel might help injuries at the knee, where loads are reduced. However, it may cause injuries to the feet and ankle, where loads are increased,” he said.

“Put simply, when it comes to running style: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”