Houston podiatrist discusses kids running with heel strike and midfoot strikeI love seeing kids in the office. Being a father of three myself, I never like seeing kids in pain. That’s especially true when it’s avoidable.

Some of what I see children for in the office is not avoidable. Things like ingrown toenails and plantar warts, for instance. They simply need to be treated with a simple procedure and they’ll be taken care of.

But then there are the issues that are more mechanical in nature. Things like heel or arch pain or shin splints. I know many of you don’t think that kids get things like these, but they do. Often.

I recently saw an 11-year-old young man who was complaining of pain in the back of his heels. This ended up being a very common condition called Sever’s disease. It’s an inflammation of the growth plate on the back of the heel.

I reviewed how we are going to treat his pain with him and his mom. When I asked him when it hurt the most, he answered when his teacher made him run with a heel strike. That means that his teacher forced him to land on his heel when he ran.

Now I know some of you are thinking that that sound right. After all, we walk with a heel strike. Here’s the thing, there’s not one correct way to run. Forcing this child to run with a heel strike is contributing to his pain. It may even be causing it.

Now, I’m not telling you that it’s wrong to run with a heel strike. It fine for those who it works for. It’s not the ONLY way to run. Some foot structures lend themselves to a running gait with no heel strike at all. You land on your midfoot and push right off to the next step.

Many would argue that this is a more efficient way to run. The less time your foot is in touch with the ground, the more efficient your running gait is. When you run with a heel strike, the entire bottom of your foot ends up in contact with the ground. From your heel all the way to your toes. Your foot is on the ground for a long time. This can make you very tired.

Take a look at a fast runner: a horse, dog, cheetah, or any fast animal. You’ll see that the animal’s paws are on the ground briefly. That’s what humans should strive for.

So back to the young man in my office. He is clearly not built to run with a heel strike. In fact, it’s hurting him to run with a heel strike. I reinforced to him that the way he naturally runs is completely correct. He should feel confident that running with a midfoot strike is the right way for him.

I was happy to write a note to his PE coach. If he’s making this one boy run with a heel strike, he’s doing the same for other kids. It was a unique note. I’ve never had to explain this before. Then again, I’ve never heard of someone telling a student they’re running wrong.

If you feel strain in your calf or Achilles tendon when your run. Or if you get shin splints often, consider changing your running gait. Aim for a midfoot strike, shorten your stride, and bend your knees slightly when you impact the ground. You may be surprised that your pain starts to fade away.

If you, or your child, is experiencing foot, ankle, or leg pain when you’re running, there is a solution. Come into the office for a comprehensive evaluation. I’ll be able to give you suggestions on how to continue the activities you love without being in pain. Contact us and we’ll get you in for an immediate appointment.

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.
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