Heel-Toe vs. Toe-Heel Walking

You probably don't think about your stride too much, but most people use a heel to toe walking technique. That's because it is much more efficient than the toe to heel walking used by many animals. Learning about ball walking vs. heel walking will help you decide which technique to use.

There are different ways that you can walk.
Credit: lzf/iStock/GettyImages

Heel to Toe Walking

Almost everyone has a heel to toe walking stride. While that technique can cause heel pain, it also has many advantages. The writers of a May 2012 paper in Interface showed the humans have developed this stride because it's both mechanically economical and physiologically economical. The authors suggest that human ancestors may have walked this way for millions of years.

The opposite technique, a toe to heel pattern, is often considered a pathology. Yet little evidence supports this idea, according to a 2012 review in the Iowa Orthopaedic Journal. Toe walking seems only a cosmetic problem. Doctors will only correct the toe-heel pattern when it causes distress. If you need treatment, successful options include both behavioral and surgical approaches.

Still, the writers of an April 2015 report in the Journal of Child Neurology found a relationship between toe walking and autism in 61 children. If your child consistently shows the toe-heel pattern, please speak with a health care professional and ask for a thorough examination.

The authors of a December 2012 article in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics tested 51 children and found that kids with a toe-heel stride had more neuropsychiatric problems than age-matched controls.

Read more: Can Walking Be Enough to Reduce Obesity?

Walking Stride Economy

The current stride of modern humans gives them an advantage. The writers of a March 2014 paper in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise tested 20 healthy athletes and showed that heel strikers have better running economy than ball strikers.

Gender doesn't seem to affect these results as both women and men heel strikers have better running economy. Interestingly, the better economy found in this study didn't lead to better performance. It only decreased the effort needed to reach the goal.

Researchers have reached a similar conclusion with walking. The authors of a July 2013 report in the Journal of Experimental Biology combined data from mathematical models and human tests to show that you gain more force and waste less energy with heel to toe walking.

The toe-heel pattern expends greater energy because it puts undue stress on the extensor muscles of the ankle, knee and hip. This finding suggests that the heel-toe pattern is the correct way to walk on your feet when you want to protect your muscles.

Read more: Muscles Used in Hip Extension

Barefoot Walking and Running

Barefoot walking and running have become increasingly popular. You can safely work out barefoot in some cases, but you should consult with a health care expert before doing so. The writers of an April 2012 paper in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews stated that barefoot runners often generate impact forces of 1.5 to 2.5 times their body weight.

To manage these large forces, barefoot runners typically adopt a toe to heel pattern to decrease the impact which eventually reaches their heel.

Read more: 12 Easy, Anytime Exercises to Strengthen Your Ankles

People who wear running shoes don't make this adjustment. The study in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews showed that the raised, elastic heel of running shoes decreases the heel impact by 10 percent. This smaller impact feels better, yet these shocks still penetrate your body.

This damage might eventually break down your soft tissues. The toe-heel pattern has the potential to cause less long-term damage. Thus, it might be the correct way to walk on your feet when you want to protect your joints.

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