Form and Function: Foot Structure and Running Style

A recent article out of Pennsylvania State University kinesiology research shows that sprinters and non-sprinters have measurable differences in their foot structure and the muscles affecting them.  With a relatively small sample size, 16 runners, they compared MRI images to find shorter Achilles tendons and longer ‘big toe’ bones on average in sprinters than in non- sprinter runners.  The men examined in the study were all active athletes of several years duration.  The rational of a more efficient lever arm because of these findings is interesting for kinesiologists, but somewhat misleading from our point of view.


Shortening of the Achilles tendon may contribute to greater speed in competitive sprinters, but it can have detrimental effects in the long term.  The metatarsals are the long bones behind your toes that take up a good portion of your foot. They do create a lever action where they meet the toes during normal heel to toe walking or running.  When instead, as in sprinting or wearing high heels, they take the full force of your body weight on one leg problems can occur. It is true that the tendons and muscles transfer the force through your foot and up your leg as the barefoot philosophy relates. Unfortunately, without carefully building up the muscles or bone tolerance, fractures can and often do occur. Spending too much time on your toes either in heels or while running can lead to stress fractures or actual breaks in your metatarsals


This isn’t to say that sprinting or barefoot running doesn’t have a place in your running regime.  Implementing these things as a part of your running routine can help to diversify and build on your abilities. We strongly encourage you to implement a variety of stretching techniques to keep any of your leg muscles from become tight or contracted.  It is a good idea to see your Austin podiatrist to address any concerns or problems with your running regime.  Be sure to slowly introduce changes to your running regime and limit the amount of time you spend on the balls of your feet. 

Dr. Craig H. Thomajan, DPM, FACFAS, FAENS
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Founder and Managing Partner of Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists
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