If you’re a runner, you have a foot strike. No, it’s not a disease; it’s the point at which your foot first hits the ground in your stride: your heel, ball or toe. If you land with your heel first, you are a heel-striker. If you land with your toe or ball first, you are a forefoot striker, which is good news if you’re hoping to avoid injuries such as tendonitis, especially in your Achilles tendon.
In running there are heel and forefoot strikers. Forefoot strikers can be broken down even further, depending on whether they land closer to their midfoot or toes. Sprinters are highly associated with forefoot striking, as they push off their toes for speed and spend less time with their feet on the ground. Most distance runners are heel or midfoot strikers, with most new runners automatically adopting a heel strike.
Forefoot Strikes and Tendonitis
In distance running, forefoot or midfoot strikers are far less likely to experience tendonitis than heel strikers. Because your heel has very little cushion compared to the ball of your foot, you experience greater impact when it hits the pavement first. This puts more stress on your joints and tendons and can cause inflammation and pain. Midfoot and forefoot strikers experience less impact shock and are easier on their bodies.
Changing Your Form
If you want to reduce your risk of tendonitis and also lessen the impact on your body by becoming a mid- or forefoot striker, you should make the change slowly. Running on this part of your feet requires stronger calf muscles and could initially make your Achilles tendon tight. Instead of making the change all at once, expect the transition to take a few months and ease into it. Take a few miles or minutes during each run and use your new form. Increase the time and distance until you are able to complete each run with a midfoot or forefoot strike.
Tendonitis isn’t a pleasant experience for any runner, but it isn’t the end of the world. Most cases, unless they are severe, can be treated with the R.I.C.E. method: rest, ice, compression, elevation. It can also be helpful to take an anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the pain and inflammation. If your tendonitis lasts more than a week with home treatment, be sure to consult with your physician or orthopedic doctor.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.