Humans evolved to run over 2 million years ago and therefore running is innate in us. We believe runners have the best chance to be injury free if they run the way they were meant to. This means allowing their anatomy, in particular the foot, to function the way it was designed. The foot is an amazing structure, comprised of 26 bones, 33 joints with multiple degrees of freedom of movement, and four layers of muscles to control the deflection of the arch with each step. There is also a dense pad under the heel that attenuates the impact force of heel strike. Unfortunately, this heel pad is not dense enough to attenuate the loads of running. Therefore, during running in the most natural barefoot state, landing on the heel is avoided as it is painful. Therefore, when barefoot, humans naturally land on the ball of the foot and use the calf muscles to lower the heel gently. It is our contention that this is the way the body was designed to run.
If running is innate, why is there such a high injury rate? Overtraining is certainly one of the most common causes of running injuries. Runners are known for doing too much, too quick, too soon! However, research suggests the most prevalent running injuries are very often related to faulty mechanics. These faulty mechanics cause excessive stresses and strains to the musculoskeletal system, which can result in a variety of running-related injuries. Even if the symptoms have resolved with standard physical therapy, if the underlying mechanics are not addressed, the risk for recurrence is high.
The Spaulding National Running Center, associated with Harvard Medical School, is one of the premier sites in the country for the evaluation, treatment and prevention of running-related, musculoskeletal injuries. The Center is comprised of the Running Injury Clinic, where runners are evaluated and treated, and the Running Research Laboratory, where running biomechanical studies are conducted. The association between these two entities ensures the runner that they are being treated with the most recent, evidence-based approaches.