Purpose: The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of foot-strike technique on longitudinal arch mechanics and intrinsic foot muscle function during running.
Methods: 13 healthy participants ran barefoot on a force-instrumented treadmill at 2.8ms-1 with a forefoot (FFS) and rear-foot (RFS, habitual) running technique, while kinetic, kinematic and electromyographic (EMG) data from the intrinsic foot muscles were collected simultaneously. The longitudinal arch was modeled as a single "mid-foot" joint representing motion of the rear-foot (calcaneus) relative to the forefoot (metatarsals). An inverse dynamic analysis was performed to estimate joint moments generated about the mid-foot, as well as mechanical work and power.
Results: The mid-foot was more plantar flexed (higher arch) at foot contact when running with a forefoot running technique (RFS 0.2 +/- 1.8o v FFS 6.9 +/- 3.0o, ES = 2.7), however there was no difference in peak mid-foot dorsiflexion in stance (RFS -11.6 +/- 3.0o v FFS -11.4 +/- 3.4o, ES = 0.63). When running with a forefoot technique, participants generated greater moments about the mid-foot (27% increase, ES = 1.1) and performed more negative work (240% increase, ES = 2.2) and positive work (42% increase, ES = 1.1) about the mid-foot. Average stance phase muscle activation was greater for Flexor Digitorum Brevis (20% increase, ES = 0.56) and Abductor Hallucis (17% increase, ES = 0.63) when running with a forefoot technique.
Conclusion: Forefoot running increases loading about the longitudinal arch and also increases the mechanical work performed by the intrinsic foot muscles. These findings have substantial implications in terms of injury prevention and management for runners who transition from a rear-foot to a forefoot running technique.
Commentary: As you all would be well aware, there has been vibrant, if not heated discussion over whether there was "one best way to run". Most who believe this was indeed the case, espoused that running with a forefoot strike was best.
This is an interesting position to take given that more than 90% of all runners, including many elite and super elite runners, do not adopt a forefoot strike pattern. Some do, but that is the variability of the human organism.
What this study shows us is no real surprise to those who understand gait and biomechanics. That running on the forefoot will not only increase loading on the longitudinal arch but also increase the mechanical work of the intrinsic foot muscles.
Now, this second point is very important, because a case could be made that loading the arch is not necessarily a bad thing. This increased load could potentially be stored and returned during gait as a part of the important spring like role the longitudinal arch plays.
However, the fact that the intrinsic muscles are working harder during forefoot running cancels out this notion to a large degree.
The discussion will continue, but it is nice to see great work like this come out of Luke Kelly's Group at The University of Queensland to help clarify the picture.
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