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:
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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.