For most individuals, running is the go-to form of recreational physical activity. With the new year only just passed, the number of people taking up running to achieve their fitness goals is at a 12-month peak. By association, however, repeated loading of the bony structures and tendons can incur injury if rate and volume of loading is too great and recovery time is too little. Thus, finding a way to manage loading patterns is essential for lower limb health and functional longevity.
Surprisingly, and conveniently, different types (makes, models) of running shoes can cause runners to adopt different loading patterns through each stride. These loading patterns are determined by location of initial foot contact (foot strike) with the ground.
Shoes with minimal foam cushioning promote forefoot striking (FFS). These shoes are typically used by runners covering shorter distances at faster speeds. FFS utilises soft tissue structures (ligaments of the arch of the foot, Achilles tendon, calf muscles) to absorb the force of impact and further generate propulsive forces for the next stride. Although an efficient form of running, FFS puts the soft tissues structures, particularly the Achilles tendon under high eccentric and concentric forces. Because of its increased volume of recruitment during FFS, the Achilles become more susceptible to injury. Tendinopathies, inflammation, and muscle strains are common overuse injuries associated with poor running load management. Following a period of extended running with FFS, prolonged rest is advised to allow the Achilles suitable to recover.
On the other hand, shoes which have larger amounts cushioning promotes rearfoot striking (RFS). Shoes with more cushioning are more popular amongst most recreational runners. RFS utilises bony structures to absorb impact forces, and soft tissues structures for force generation. As this mechanism of running spreads the forces of running across a variety of lower limb structures, it is typically more sustainable. However, if running volume is to great and recovery between bouts of activity is too small, inflammation of bony structures are likely to occur. This can include stress fractures through bones of the foot/shin, as well shin splints.
For individuals who find themselves suffering with one the running related injuries listed above, it could be worth switching to a pair of shoes that promote the other form foot strike. By better managing loading patterns through the lower limb, through use of appropriate footwear, and the managing volume of running, the risk of lower limb injury will be significantly reduced.
For any questions about what footwear may best suit your physical activity demands, ask one of our fitness professionals.