How to Avoid Running-Related Shin Injury

Shin injury whether it be shin splints or a shin bone fracture, especially on the inner part of the lower leg, is utterly common in joggers who heel strike. One simple and effective way to reduce your odds of a shin injury during running is with forefoot running, which means making initial ground-contact on the balls of your foot, shown below:

Even though there are multiple factors responsible for shin injury in runners, forefoot running has a proven record for preventing sore shins because a central feature of forefoot running is significantly less impact, less braking and less mechanical energy as compared with heel strike running — a more labor-intensive, hard-hitting form of running. However, is landing on the forefoot during running everything in staving off shin splints? Not always! There are other mechanical adjustments you can make, in addition to forefoot striking, during running that can serve as a pressure-release valve on the shins. Adjustments such as widening your step-width during forefoot running may help bring full resolve to your nagging shin splints.

If you are a forefoot runner who ongoingly struggles with shin pain, you may be running with a narrow step-width or a crossover running gait, a well-known risk factor for sore shins.

How to Avoid Running-Related Shin Injury: Wide vs Narrow Step Width
If you’re not making enough progress in healing your tibia pain (shin splints) with forefoot running, you may want to consider adjusting your running step-width. Step-width is defined as the distance in width between your feet at each step. The best descriptor of step-width is shown above. On the left, shows a narrow-step which is implicated in momenting shin pain, whereas consistently the data shows that widening your step-width (shown right) has the direct effect of reducing stress and strain on the shins during running and may work best in bringing full resolve to chronic shin splints.

A study by Meardon and Derrick (2014) investigated the effects of step-width manipulation on tibial (shin) strain in runners. The runners in the study were given a verbal cue to run with a narrower or wider step-width, both of which were to be 5% more or less than their preferred step-width.

Based on their results, the researchers found clear and convincing evidence that running step-width strongly influences medial tibia (inner shin) tension at touchdown, whereby a wider step-width was found to reduce medial compression and tissue loads on the lower leg as compared with a crossover (narrow step-width) running gait. More notably, the researchers also found that a wider step- width reduced normal stress loads and reduced lower anterior tension as well as posterior and medial tibial compression on the lower leg, suggesting that widening your step-width during running may really help in managing shin splint pain relief by easing mechanical burdens and impact on the lower leg.

By comparison, a smaller running step-width has been linked to greater pronation, hip adduction and knee internal rotation, which collectively increase the medial-lateral ground reaction force, torsional loading and tibia strain — all are implicated in tibial stress fracture progression in runners.

The trick to avoiding these adverse reactions when forefoot running is by making the new effort of opening up your step width, making sure your feet land farther apart. And remember, a narrow running step width is not the only culprit in chronic shin pain. Cushioned running shoes, for example, enable a runner to land hard on the ground, causing more widespread impact to the leg. Barefoot running shoes promote ‘lighter’ interactions with the ground, not to mention running barefoot is even better at reducing musculoskeletal loading.

Nonetheless, a great way a forefoot runner can widen their step width is to run over top of the line on the side of the road, making sure your feet land on either side, not on or near the line, but rather your running step width should equal the width of your hip. Hope this helps!

Be sure to check out a more detailed depiction of a forefoot strike, just to make sure you are landing correctly.

More From Run Forefoot:

How Cushioned Running Shoes Alter Natural Foot Strike

7 Top Running Shoe Brands for Forefoot Runners

7 Benefits of Running in Minimalist Shoes

How Ditching Heel Strike Helped Meb Win Boston

Most Popular Energy Gels Long Distance Runners Love

P.S. The Run Forefoot Facebook Page is a great place to ask questions related to forefoot running mechanics, injury, barefoot running and footwear. I’m always happy to help!

References:

Meardon SA and Derrick TR. Effect of step width manipulation on tibial stress during running. J Biomech, 2014;47, 2738-2744.

Brindle, R.A., Milner, C.E., Zhang, S., Fitzhugh, E.C., 2013. Changing step width alters lower extremity biomechanics during running. Gait Posture 39, 124–128.

Pohl, M.B., Messenger, N., Buckley, J.G., 2006. Changes in foot and lower limb coupling due to systematic variations in step width. Clin. Biomech. 21, 175–183

McClay, I.S., 1995. The use of gait analysis to enhance the understanding of running injuries. Mosby, St. Louis MO, pp. 395–411.

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!