Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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The Monday Shakeout: Why Heel Bevels Are Natural
By Matthew Klein

This week Matt explains why he frequently discusses the presence and design of heel bevels in running footwear based on the relationship to the shape of the heel bone.

When it comes to the ride of a shoe, one of the first things I look at is the rearfoot shape and design. Specifically, I look for the presence of a heel bevel. A heel bevel refers to the curve or roundness of the posterior aspect of the rearfoot or back of the shoe. For the 70% of the population that heel strikes, this component is incredibly important to help provide a smooth transition at heel contact (Kasmer et al., 2013).

What Does the Heel Bevel Do Biomechanically?

The reason this design element is so important in all non-minimal footwear is that it mimics the curved nature of the human heel bone. The calcanei (heel bone) naturally have a rounded posterior section in the majority of human beings (Neumann, 2016). The shape is there for a specific reason, it is an essential part of a mechanism that improves the efficiency of human gait. This mechanism is called the "heel rocker" and is one of the three rockers in the foot that can make human beings so efficient at locomotion. The rounded nature naturally allows the foot to roll forward upon initial contact/heel strike and decreases the demand on the ankle extensor (dorsiflexor) muscles (anterior tibialis, extensor hallucis longus, extensor digitorum longus) to ease the front of the foot down onto the ground. These muscles go through an eccentric lengthening, meaning contracting while being lengthened, which is one of the highest stresses you can place through muscles. A rockered design may reduce the eccentric demand on these muscles, improving the transition and efficiency with each footstrike. 

Heel Bevels vs. Flat Designs

It should be known that the current - and limited - evidence suggests that heel rocker designs compared to straight or flared heel designs (back protrudes out) do not change the total amount of motion the front of the foot goes through (dorsiflexion to plantarflexion) but may change the speed (Sun et al., 2020). This is important as high-speed eccentric muscle actions create the most muscle damage of any type of contraction. Having a straight heel or flared design may increase the speed the front of the foot goes through, increasing eccentric muscle demand, which MAY in some individuals be a risk factor for "shin splints" or "medial tibial stress syndrome" (irritation to the front of the tibia often from muscle irritation, tendinitis/tendinopathies or even bone irritation). On the other hand, an appropriately rockered or beveled heel may reduce the demand and potentially reduce stress on those tissues.

It All Comes Back to Comfort

The final piece that heel bevels add is comfort with a heel transition. Given that the majority of people, regardless of speed, heel strike as distance runners, this design element is essential to maintaining natural gait mechanisms (Hayes & Caplan, 2012). If you place something that gets in the way or takes away something that helps with efficiency, discomfort is common. This has become far more important as stack heights continue to rise. The more material you have underfoot, generally the stiffer the shoe becomes. This can inhibit the individual from appropriately using their heel rocker, thus a bevel heel is required to replace that loss and maintain forward momentum (Sobhani et al., 2013). People naturally gravitate toward efficient and cushioned shoes, so maintaining one of the most natural mechanically efficient mechanisms of the foot is incredibly important regardless of the amount of cushioning underfoot (Worobets et al., 2014). 


Hayes, P., & Caplan, N. (2012). Foot strike patterns and ground contact times during high-calibre middle-distance races. 
Journal of Sports Sciences30(12), 1275-1283.

Kasmer, M. E., Liu, X. C., Roberts, K. G., & Valadao, J. M. (2013). Foot-strike pattern and performance in a marathon. 
International journal of sports physiology and performance, 8(3), 286-292.

Neumann, D. A. (2016). Kinesiology of the musculoskeletal system-e-book: foundations for rehabilitation. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Sobhani, S., Hijmans, J., van den Heuvel, E., Zwerver, J., Dekker, R., & Postema, K. (2013). Biomechanics of slow running and walking with a rocker shoe. 
Gait & Posture38(4), 998-1004.

Sun, X., Lam, W. K., Zhang, X., Wang, J., & Fu, W. (2020). Systematic review of the role of footwear constructions in running biomechanics: Implications for running-related injury and performance. 
Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 19(1), 20.

Worobets, J., Wannop, J. W., Tomaras, E., & Stefanyshyn, D. (2014). Softer and more resilient running shoe cushioning properties enhance running economy. Footwear Science6(3), 147-153.


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Shoe Rotations for Different Runners
Strength Training to Prevent Injury?
On the Impact of Different Stack Heights
The Importance of Heel Bevels
Differences Between Low vs. High Drop
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Do Heavier Runners Need Different Shoes?

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