How to Treat and Prevent Shin Splints During Running

The best advice regarding how to treat and prevent shin splints during running is by running with a forefoot strike landing pattern AND doing so at faster running speeds.

Unfortunately, speed is a scary word in running, but it shouldn’t be as running faster, while landing on the balls of your foot may help put an end to your shin splint pain.

It turns out that an obvious flaw of running too slow coupled with landing on the heel first (heel striking), may result in a hard-hitting thud of the body with the ground which may cause the shins to bare much of the brute impact loads, resulting in over-worked, painful shins. The good news is, this grim situation can be easily avoided by forefoot striking during running WHILE running faster than your comfort pace.

How to Treat and Prevent Shin Splints

Forefoot running (shown above) may effectively reduce shin splint pain because to set-up to land on the forefoot involves a movement pattern of the foot called plantarflexion or reduced dorsiflexion which means the front part of the foot (the forefoot) points down towards the ground at touchdown. Striking the ground this way is scientifically proven to reduce tension build-up in the shins via reducing shin tibialis anterior activity. This may also save energy in the lower leg because less muscle activity is specific to less muscle metabolism, and may therefore help improve sustained running economy.

How to Treat and Prevent Shin Splints During Running

Past studies have found that natural forefoot runners had significantly less muscle activity in the tibialis anterior during the late swing phase of gait as compared with heel strike runners. And, in addition to running forefoot, running faster may also reduce the risk of shin injury, too.

Moore et al., (2014) found that as running speed increased, muscle activity of the tibialis anterior decreased. They also discovered that the shorter activations of the tibialis anterior were proportionate with shorter ground contact time and less dorsiflexion at touchdown, suggesting that running faster might be better for the shins than running slow, or jogging.

What Does the Tibialis Anterior Do?

In running, the tibialis anterior muscle controls the movement of the forefoot whereby forefoot runners naturally have significantly less dorsiflexion at touchdown than heel strikers, regardless of speed.

  • Less dorsiflexion at touchdown means the tibialis anterior is more relaxed, or passive, which in turn reduces muscle activity in the tibialis anterior as well as energy demands.
How to Treat and Prevent Shin Splints
Left, a heel striker showing high dorsiflexion as indicated by the forefoot being lifted up to allow initial contact on the heel. The high dorsiflexion increases muscle activity at the tibialis anterior (red arrows). Right, a forefoot striker, showing no dorsiflexion, rather high plantarflexion at touchdown, reducing work on the tibialis anterior.
How to Treat and Prevent Shin Splints
SOURCE: Yong et al., 2014; J Boimech, 47, pp 3594.

Past correlational analysis revealed a positive correlation between muscle activity and oxygen consumption, meaning that as muscle activity increases, muscle metabolism increases (higher energy demands). This is why you want to avoid overworking your shin muscles by NOT dorsiflexing your ankle at touchdown during running.

Why Heel Strikers Are Prone to Shin Splints

Heel strike runners are most likely to have a higher risk of shin injury than forefoot runners because muscle activity in the tibialis anterior is greater as a consequence of high dorsiflexion upon and at touchdown.

  • High dorsiflexion at touchdown reflects greater muscle force generation to produce this movement.
  • The opposite of dorsiflexion at touchdown is plantar flexion. Since plantar flexion is greater at touchdown in forefoot running, less muscular effort is used to contact the ground.

High plantar flexion is also seen in habitual barefoot runners who forefoot strike, suggesting that plantar flexion at touchdown is an evolutionary adaptation of humans to reduce energy expenditure in the shins when running barefoot over long distances.

Learn more about how both heel striking and forefoot striking affects shin health here.

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.

References:

Moore, IS., Jones, AM and Dixon, SJ. Relationship between metabolic cost and muscular coactivation across running speeds. J Sci Med Sport, 2014;17, 671-76.

Yong, JR., Silder, A and Delp, SL. Differences in muscle activity between natural forefoot and rearfoot strikers during running. J Biomech, 2014; 47, 3593-97.

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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