Do Shin Splints Go Away?

When your shins hurt, your running experience greatly suffers. The chronic condition seems to last forever leaving runners asking do shin splints go away? The answer is yes.

When it comes to shins splints, foot strike is everything. Research shows that in many cases, the audible slapping of the forefoot after heel strike may cause shin splints in heel strike running.

Do Shin Splints Go Away?

Do Shin Splints Go Away?

A study by Miller et al. discovered that runners were more likely to suffer shin pain, particularly anterior shin pain, if they landed with a heel strike, but also if they produced an audible slapping noise of the forefoot when the forefoot contacted the ground shortly after heel strike.

Why Forefoot Slapping Occurs After Heel Strike

In heel strike running, the movement path of the foot during ground contact follows a heel-to-forefoot rollover pattern. In addition, the center of mass is behind initial foot strike position at heel strike and as the center of mass travels forward, the foot rolls heel-to-toe.

However, as the center of mass passes over the forefoot, the forefoot rapidly smacks on the ground, causing an audible slapping noise which leads to shin pain.

Shin pain from heel strike running
At touchdown in heel strike running, ankle dorsiflexion winds the forefoot back allowing initial contact on the heel. As the center of mass passes over the foot, the forefoot is rapidly released, causing it to slap on the ground.
  • The researchers examined the implications of this ‘forefoot slapping’ and it appeared consistent with repeated and prolonged inner range tibialis anterior contractions which lead to premature muscular fatigue and muscle cramps.
  • The pain worsens when heavy footwear, and/or increased training volume and intensity is added to the equation.

Dorsiflexion at Touchdown is the Problem

Ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown is the root of forefoot slapping because doing so allows heel strike in the first place. Without ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown, it’s virtually impossible to make initial contact directly on the heel. Without heel strike, the forefoot cannot be forcefully slapped on the ground, preventing the shin from being overloaded.

In forefoot running, the standard goals in preventing injury are partially the result of how our feet interact with the ground at touchdown. Because the ankle is plantarflexed at touchdown in forefoot running, the dorsiflexors relax, thereby reducing shin tightness and muscle cramping.

Footwear Shapes Foot -Ground Interactions

Research has traced minimalist footwear and barefoot running to reduced ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown in runners. Research has also traced ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown to the standard running shoe (i.e. shoes with cushioned heels). These findings probe clues about our evolutionary history as barefoot endurance runners, and running injuries do not simply just spring out of nowhere –something is causing them.

Ankle plantarflexion at touchdown during running must have roots in our common ancestry because it is common in many habitual barefoot runners –shin pain is rare in habitual barefoot populations. This commonality asserts the theme that the standard running shoe is a potent and persuasive tool because it shapes our foot/ground interactions during running.

Nevertheless, habitual barefoot runners consistently exhibit ankle plantarflexion at touchdown suggesting that it is a biological motion, an evolutionary advantage of being less prone to lower leg injury.

More From Run Forefoot:

Learn how to increase cadence for better running efficiency and protection against injury.

What does a forefoot strike look like?

Eye-opening facts about cushioned running shoes.

Find out why maximizing your proprioception unlocks safer movement strategies during running.


References:

Miller AF., Roberts A., Hulse D and Foster J. Biomechanical overload syndrome: defining a new diagnosis. Br J Sports Med, 2014; 48:415-416.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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