Pain on shins during running can be caused by heel striking as heel striking is strongly associated with increased plantar flexor stiffness which increases the ground reaction force on the leg.
Landing with a heel strike may increase ankle plantar flexor stiffness –a risk factor for shin fracture – because the ankle is hyper-dorsiflexed upon and at touchdown. This results in impaired shock absorption in the lower leg, causing shin pain and even injury to the shin bone.
Pain on Shins During Running
The high magnitude of the ground reaction force that naturally occurs in heel strike running is an underlying cause of bone tissue micro-damage that contributes to a broken shin bone [2-7], and is amplified when the 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 .
The data implies that heel strike running does not sufficiently attenuate impact because is causes stiff ankle plantar flexors which become poor shock absorbers, thereby causing the ground reaction force to be greater.
Happier Shins with Forefoot Running
A good way to start running with less impact on the shins is with forefoot running because the ground reaction force is naturally lower as well as the incidence of shin fractures, suggesting that plantar flexor stiffness might be lower as well as compared with heel strike running. Furthermore, the joints of the lower leg are more compliant in forefoot running and may help reduce the transmission of mechanical shock up the body .
Click here to see what a forefoot strike looks like.
To get the most out of your forefoot strike, try running barefoot as it forces you to avoid landing directly on the heel.
Barefoot like running shoes also inspires a forefoot strike landing over a heel strike.
. 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.
. 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.
. 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.
.McMahon, T.A., Valiant, G.A., & Frederick, E.C. (1987). Groucho running. Journal of Applied
. 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.
. Hunter IW, Kearney RE. Dynamics of human ankle stiffness: variation with mean ankle torque. J Biomech. 1982;15(10):747–752.
. 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.
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.