Preferred Foot Strike Pattern and Soft Tissue Vibration

The simplified version of the ‘Preferred Motion Pathway‘ model is that each individual has a preferred pathway for a given task (and that will vary from person to person). The model considers that if you function within that pathway, then you are more efficient and have a less risk for injury. If you function outside that preferred pathway, then you are inefficient and at greater risk for injury. The aim of an intervention to manage an injury to to move the individual back into their preferred pathway for the movement that is associated with the injury. A number of experiments have been published based on this model and a number of experimental results have been interpreted in the context of this model. The most recent one is this study looking at preferred running strike patterns and the effect of that on soft tissues vibrations:

The effects of preferred and non-preferred running strike patterns on tissue vibration properties
Hendrik Enders Vinzenz von Tscharner, Benno M. Nigg
Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport; Available online 1 May 2013
To characterize soft tissue vibrations during running with a preferred and a non-preferred strike pattern in shoes and barefoot.
Cross-sectional study.
Participants ran at 3.5 m s−1 on a treadmill in shoes and barefoot using a rearfoot and a forefoot strike for each footwear condition. The preferred strike patterns for the subjects were a rearfoot strike and a forefoot strike for shod and barefoot running, respectively. Vibrations were recorded with an accelerometer overlying the belly of the medial gastrocnemius. Thirteen non-linearly scaled wavelets were used for the analysis. Damping was calculated as the overall decay of power in the acceleration signal post ground contact. A higher damping coefficient indicates higher damping capacities of the soft tissue.
The shod rearfoot strike showed a 93% lower damping coefficient than the shod forefoot strike (p < 0.001). A lower damping coefficient indicates less damping of the vibrations. The barefoot forefoot strike showed a trend toward a lower damping coefficient compared to a barefoot rearfoot strike. Running barefoot with a forefoot strike resulted in a significantly lower damping coefficient than a forefoot strike when wearing shoes (p < 0.001). The shod rearfoot strike showed lower damping compared to a barefoot rearfoot strike (p < 0.001). While rearfoot striking showed lower vibration frequencies in shod and barefoot running, it did not consistently result in lower damping coefficients.
This study showed that the use of a preferred movement resulted in lower damping coefficients of running related soft tissue vibrations.

This study is based on the premise that impact with the ground sets up a vibration in the soft tissues similar to a shock wave that travels up the body. Most of these vibrations are normally dampened by a number of mechanisms to minimize the detrimental effects (ie injury) of the vibrations. It has been suggested that the more vibrations there are, the harder the muscles have to work to dampen it. If they have to work harder, then this impacts on efficiency and increases the loads for injury risk. The aim of the above study was to investigate the damping effect in shod and barefoot running on these soft tissue vibrations and if the foot strike pattern was a preferred pattern or not.

What did they find:

  • they showed that when the runners in the study used their preferred strike pattern during both shod and barefoot running, that this resulted in lower damping coefficients (a good thing). This is considered a result of optimizing a particular movement pattern (ie they were in their ‘preferred motion pathway’).
  • There was no difference in that ‘shock wave’ and its damping between barefoot and shod conditions.

Practical Implications (as described by the authors):

  • there is no conclusive advantage of barefoot or shod running with respect to tissue vibration properties.
  • tissue vibration is primarily governed by the preferred running style of an individual.
  • the discussion about shod and barefoot running should consider a runners individual preference more strongly.

What does this all mean?

It means that there is no one best way to run for all. It is individual and subject specific. Everyone has their own preferred pathway for any given task ….. now we only need better tools to determine that for each individual.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me.

Enders H, von Tscharner V, & Nigg BM (2013). The effects of preferred and non-preferred running strike patterns on tissue vibration properties. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia PMID: 23642961

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5 Responses to Preferred Foot Strike Pattern and Soft Tissue Vibration

  1. Anmin Deng May 18, 2013 at 3:59 am #

    I wondered what the findings will be if allowing sufficient transition time (preferred running style transition to any random running style) and conduct the tests and compare the results before and after the transition.
    Some studies (many of which are good studies by the way) ask rearfoot runners to perform forefoot running with insufficient transition time (if any). We see very few (if any) studies to ask forefoot runners to perform rearfoot running. I would not say the evaluations in the studies would be fair. Again, as my ‘n=1’ experience, I did feel very awful at the beginning of my transition (to a so-called ‘natural’ (in my case ‘pose-light’) style), and after months of training, I *feel* a lot confier to run in that style than I did in my old style before the transition (literally painful). As my wishful thinking, I’d guessed if I were one of the subjects in the studies that I might got good scores before transition, and bad scores during the transition, and better-than-before scores after months of training. I do not have evidence but am very interested in seeing the findings of such studies (such as, I did see a study said the performance after transition becomes better but declined later).

  2. Craig May 18, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    Thanks. I forgot to point out that this was an acute intervention … I meant to do that (it was written between getting the girls to ballet and then a party and one of them was sick and I was not feeling 100% myself!).

    The only problem I see with getting a group of forefoot strikers to run with a heel strike is finding enough of them to include in the study – it certainly would make for an interesting study to repeat some of the methodologies of this and other studies. We are currently in the middle of recruiting runners for a study and really struggling to get enough; while we are not targeting forefoot strikers, none of the runners recruited so far are forefoot (or midfoot) strikers … so it would be a challenge to get enough.

  3. Craig May 18, 2013 at 4:27 am #

    (such as, I did see a study said the performance after transition becomes better but declined later).”

    That might have been this study: Impact Reduction Through Changing to Midfoot Strike Pattern vs Low Drop Footwear

    “some of the other loading parameters were significantly different at one month, but had gone back to pre-transition values at three months!”

  4. John Foster May 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi Craig

    I’m struggling to find the relationship between soft tissue vibration during running and injury. I asked Dr Nigg about this a few years ago at the UKSEM conference and was told to ‘watch this space’. I’d genuinely like to know if there is something I’m missing on this? Perhaps you have come across some evidence or could share your thoughts? Thanks

    John Foster

  5. Craig May 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    I not aware of any evidence, hence I called it a ‘model’. Its an assumption that it increases the risk for injury. I speaking at a conference in a few weeks with Beno, so i will ask him where this is all heading.

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