Children growing up barefoot more likely to be heel strikers when running

Just had one of those … shake my head… roll the eyes … moments, when this turned up in my alerts. We all been subjected to the propaganda and rhetoric on this. We already know from the actual evidence that 25% of barefoot runners heel strike (when the spun narrative says that this is not supposed to happen). We also know that in support of that narrative a whole lot of stuff just got made up. One of that was invoking what I now call the “way children run logical fallacy” (I just made that fallacy up). I will just leave this one here:

Foot Strike Patterns Differ Between Children and Adolescents Growing up Barefoot vs. Shod
Karsten Hollander, Johanna Elsabe de Villiers, Ranel Venter, Susanne Sehner, Karl Wegscheider, Klaus-Michael Braumann, Astrid Zech
Int J Sports Med
Effects of early and permanent footwear use are not well understood. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of habituation to footwear on foot strike patterns of children and adolescents. Healthy habitually barefoot and shod participants (aged 6–18 years) from South Africa (n=288) and Germany (n=390) performed multiple 20-m jogging and running trials with and without shoes. Each foot strike was captured using a high-speed camera to determine a rearfoot or non-rearfoot strike. The probability of a rearfoot strike in both cohorts and each age was analyzed by using a mixed-effects logistic regression adjusted for possible confounders. Habitually barefoot children showed a higher probability of using rearfoot strikes than habitually shod children (p<0.001). The probability was age-dependent and decreased in habitually barefoot children with age (ORbarefoot-jogging=0.82, 95% CI, 0.71 to 0.96, p=0.014; ORbarefoot-running=0.58, 95% CI, 0.50 to 0.67, p<0.001 and ORshod-running=0.68, 95% CI, 0.59 to 0.79, p<0.001). In habitually shod children, the probability increased significantly for shod jogging (OR=1.19, 95% CI, 1.05 to 1.35, p=0.006). To conclude, foot strike patterns of children are influenced by habituation to footwear. Younger habitually barefoot children show higher rates of rearfoot strikes for shod and barefoot running, and it converges in later adolescence.

Nothing jumps out at me in the methods and analysis as being problematic.

I did not see that one coming!

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise …. and this is what the evidence shows. It is certainly not following the script of a certain narrative!

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One Response to Children growing up barefoot more likely to be heel strikers when running

  1. Mike December 5, 2018 at 12:46 pm #

    Hi Craig,

    I’m intrigued by this result. I’m also intrigued about where they might find some habitually unshod children and adolescents in Germany, or were the two groups geographically distinct as well? Having lived there and been clapped in orthotics at age 7, I’m confident they have an engineered solution for everything, in particular for anything related to what they call “wellness”. Anyway, that’s just an observational aside. Thank you for putting so much time and effort your blog!

    I had a question, though. It seems (to me) that the concept of heel-strike is associated with a sharp and instant rise in loading and with an acute angle of dorsiflexion — essentially leading with the heel for extra punishment. Does this study recognise whether the children who did “heel strike” were better at maintaining a less acute foot angle and/or not loading the leg until the foot was fully in contact with the ground? Is the only differentiator of heel-striking in this whether one skin area touched down before another?

    I’ve been struck by slow motion replays of barefoot runners which appear to show mechanically-sympathetic foot-contact even if their heel does touch down a split millisecond before the rest of their foot.



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