Dealing with Shin Splints

If you are a runner, forefoot running is useful in dealing with shin splints because it reduces muscle activity in the tibialis anterior during the swing phase of running as compared with heel strike running.

In forefoot running, the foot is relaxed and held in neutral position upon touchdown which lowers muscle activity in the tibialis anterior, shown below.

Forefoot Running Prevent Anterior Shin Splints
Above left, shows a forefoot runner with the landing foot in a neutral position which relaxes the tibia; whereas above right, shows a heel strike runner who is lifting the forefoot upon touchdown which increases muscle activity in the tibialis anterior.

The pulling-back of the forefoot upon touchdown or a dorsiflexed ankle, is responsible for increasing muscle activity in the tibialis anterior in heel strike running.

In forefoot running, the tibialis anterior is more ‘rested’ and involves less muscle metabolism.  Heel strike running however, results in greater muscle activity in the tibialis anterior thereby increasing muscle metabolism which in turn, results in limitations in oxygen supply. And, is why anterior shin splints is more in runners who heel strike.

How Runners Get Shin Splints
Letting the forefoot fall first to the ground (right) instead of lifting it up (left) reduces strain on the shins.

The net effect of high muscle activity in the tibialis anterior due to heel strike running is muscular fatigue in the shin musculature which hinders the muscles ability to lower bending stress on the shin bone and attenuate peak impacts. As a result, dynamic loading on the shin increases over long distances if heel strike is maintained during running.

However, Olin and Gutierrez (2003) found that heel strikers who switched to forefoot running without proper instruction had high muscle activity in the anterior tibialis.

The finding suggests that heel strikers who switch to forefoot running may carry-over heel strike-related mechanics, such as lifting the forefoot at touchdown. And, may also suggest why many inexperienced forefoot runners who were heel strikers, suffer bouts of anterior shin splints.

More on the Benefits of  Forefoot Running:

Olin, E.D and Gutierrez, G.M., 2013. EMG and tibial shock upon the first attempt at barefoot running. Hum Mov Sci, 32, 343–352.

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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