Avoiding shin splints in running doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, shin splints are influenced by foot strike pattern, which in turn is directly influenced by footwear.
Avoiding Shin Splints with Barefoot Running
A specific physiological process underlying shin splints in runners is high EMG activity of the tibialis anterior upon foot strike.
- High shin EMG activity correlates to high dorsiflexion upon touchdown –this foot movement occurs in heel strike running, suggesting that heel strike running is a risk factor for shin splints and that avoiding heel strike can prevent the condition.
A commonly accepted theory is that reducing dorsiflexion reduces shin EMG activity, thereby preventing muscular exhaustion and shin splints during running.
Since most recreational runners wear cushioned heeled running shoes, these runners have an inclination for high dorsiflexion at touchdown; whereas a flatter, minimalist running shoe, or barefoot running will place the foot in a favorable position that reduces dorsiflexion at touchdown.
- Tscharner at el., (2003) found that barefoot runners who were shod-heel strikers had less shin EMG activity compared to runners in a cushioned running shoe, implying that the shins are more restful during barefoot running which may prevent shin splints.
Overall, between running barefoot and running in shoes, the significant difference in muscular events occurred prior to touchdown. Why?
In barefoot running, the sensitive plantar skin is exposed and a forefoot strike is utilized to diminish impact, especially under the heel (Robbins and Hanna, 1987). To avoid heel strike and allow initial contact on the forefoot, the forefoot is not kept up by the shin muscles at touchdown, resulting in less muscular activity at the shin.
Running shoes however, causes a runner to use dorsiflexion to heel strike, which is responsible for the higher muscular activity in the shins. –the researchers indicated that this muscular activity must be executed rapidly at impact to release the forefoot.
The finding makes it inconceivable to believe that the modern running shoe is unacceptable for shin pain management. If you have shin splints, try running barefoot, or in minimalist shoes and give your shins a rest by devising the ability to NOT lift up your forefoot upon touchdown.
More From Run Forefoot:
Ankle Dorsiflexion at Touchdown – What it is and why it leads to injury.
High Arches – If you have high archers, find out the proper way to run without injury.
Why Run Faster – Discover how you actually save more energy when you run faster than your comfort pace.
Maintaining Good Form – Tips on how to prevent your form from breaking down.
Robbins, SE and Hanna, AM. Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Med Sci Sport Exerc, 1987; 19(2):148-56.
Tscharner et al. Changes in EMG signals for the muscle tibialis anterior while running barefoot or with shoes resolved by non-linearly scaled wavelets. J Biomech, 2003; 36,1169-1176.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.