Does Heel Striking Cause Shin Splints?

The shins are at a greater risk of injury if you heel strike when you run vs forefoot striking because when the front of the foot lifts up to land heel-first (shown below), the ankle becomes increasingly stiff which was found to amplify the ground reaction force on the leg. This is why impact reduction cannot happen with heel striking when running because the ankle always stiffens at an excessive rate at landing, which is partly why impact is always excessively high as compared with forefoot running.

Heel Striking Causes Shin Splints
The way the ankle is used in heel strike running can be very damaging to the shins as compared with forefoot running.

There’s very clear evidence (listed at the end of this article) showing that landing with a heel strike when running increases ankle plantar flexor stiffness (a known risk factor for shin fracture) which hinders the efficient use of the ankle as a natural shock absorber. The most consequential outcome of this is exponential impact across the shins.

Likewise, research has shown that another stressor that accounts for most injuries in heel strike running is the higher-than-normal ground reaction force which was found to be an underlying cause of bone tissue micro-damage that contributes to shin fracture, but is amplified when the ankle plantar flexors are stiff.

  • One study found that joggers (most of which were heel strikers) with a history of shin fracture(s) had the highest ankle plantar flexor stiffness compared to healthy joggers.

This is why heel strike running is self-defeating because it restricts the proper function of the ankles in ways where impact reduction cannot happen with this style of running, and this is an inescapable fact.

Happier Shins with Forefoot Running

By impact standards, forefoot running gets the most positive attention because it protects from high impacts through engaging the ankle, not only as an effective shock absorber, but as a foot stabilizer, too, which taken together, shifts even more stress away from the shins! This is because engaging a forefoot strike naturally engages a more compliant ankle, which means the ankle is more flexible and pliable, making the joint better at attenuating mechanical shock up the leg.

Forefoot Running Prevents Shin Splints
The forefoot strike is a mechanical imperative to safer running because it improves the shock absorbing characteristics of the ankle which helps unstress the lower leg, namely the shins and knees.

This is why one of the best changes to your running form is the forefoot strike. This is also why foot strike pattern in running really does matter because the function of the ankle-joint is engaged differently in forefoot running than in heel strike running. Forefoot running makes more functional use of the ankle, making it work better at preventing high impact from spreading onto the leg. 

What is more, several studies reveal that its not just the shins that are most safeguarded from impact in forefoot running, the knees are more protected as well. Here’s why heel strike running slaughters the knee and forefoot running does the exact opposite.


[1]. Pamukoff DN and Blackburn TJ. Comparison of musculotendinous stiffness, geometry, and architecture in male runners with and without a history of tibial stress fractures. J Appl Biomech, 2015; 31, 41-47.

[2]. Nigg BM, Liu W. The effect of muscle stiffness and damping on simulated impact force peaks during running. J Biomech. 1999;32(8):849–856.

[3]. Gerritsen KG, van den Bogert AJ, Nigg BM. Direct dynamics simulation of the impact phase in heel-toe running. J Biomech. 1995;28(6):661–668.

[4].McMahon, T.A., Valiant, G.A., & Frederick, E.C. (1987). Groucho running. Journal of Applied
Physiology, 62,2326-2337.

[5]. Louie JK, Mote CD, Jr. Contribution of the musculature to rotatory laxity and torsional stiffness at the knee. J Biomech. 1987;20(3):281–300.

[6]. Hunter IW, Kearney RE. Dynamics of human ankle stiffness: variation with mean ankle torque. J Biomech. 1982;15(10):747–752.

[7]. Riemann BL, DeMont RG, Ryu K, Lephart SM. The effects of sex, joint angle, and the gastrocnemius muscle on passive ankle joint complex stiffness. J Athl Train. 2001;36(4):369–375.

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!