Painful Shin Splints From Forefoot Running

My biggest problem when I transitioned to forefoot running was that I suffered horrible bouts of painful shin splints. This made me question the health benefits of forefoot running. However, I discovered that when I was running, I was actually toe running such that I was landing very high up on my tippy-toes and NOT landing on the balls of my feet like in a proper forefoot strike, and I think this is the cause of shin pain in most newbie forefoot runners.

Painful Shin Splint From Forefoot Running
Landing lower on your forefoot is the best way to stop your shins from hurting when forefoot running.

Painful Shin Splints From Forefoot Running

Many new forefoot runners think forefoot running is ‘toe running’. This is inaccurate.

In a proper forefoot strike landing, the lower part of the ball of the foot contacts the ground (shown below).

Painful Shin Splints When Forefoot Running
In a proper forefoot strike, the toes naturally lift up to get out of the way so that the balls of the foot can strike the ground.

Shortly after, the heel is brought down to the ground.

Painful Shin Splints From Forefoot Strike Running
After the balls of the foot has contacted the ground, the heel naturally drops down to the ground. This completes the full forefoot strike cycle and it allows for a smoother interaction with the ground.

The heel does contact the ground, but is the last part of the foot to do so. The video below is an even better demonstration of a proper forefoot strike landing.

As you’ve probably noticed, a forefoot strike landing is actually a much flatter foot placement than one may think. Running high up on the toes without allowing the heel to interact with the ground has been linked to shin splints and is referred to as toe running, not forefoot running.

In many cases, novice forefoot runners associate forefoot running with toe running.  As a result, these runners land high on the toes without bringing the heel to the ground, causing the lower leg to work harder at maintaining stability and absorbing pressure.

Why Your Heel Must Drop

Heel-ground contact is a vital component in forefoot running as it reduces the juddering at foot strike, increases elastic collisions for efficient running, and draws the center of pressure away from the forefoot.

The center of pressure is dissipated over a larger surface area in a forefoot-rearfoot landing pattern thereby preventing shin splints from forefoot running.

Cibulka at el. found that a forefoot runner with shin splints had the center of pressure begin and end in the forefoot, indicative of a lack of heel-ground interaction.  Moreover, Kantor found that runners with a history of shin splints had no heel-ground interaction.

In a proper forefoot strike landing, the center of pressure begins at the forefoot, under the 4th and 5th metatarsal heads and ends at the heel after heel contact.

The heel must contact the ground after initial contact is made on the forefoot with the ground to allow pressure to dissipate sufficiently over the foot, and less on the leg (another video shown below).

  • if the heel does not drop during the stance phase, greater demands is exerted on the connective tissues surrounding the tibia as a compensatory mechanism to disperse excessive pressure confined to the forefoot

To remedy shin splints from forefoot running, avoid running high on your forefoot and avoid springing your body forward with the balls of the foot.

Relax your foot and ankle at foot strike and aim for a much flatter foot strike, making sure to let the foot fall to the ground instead of forcing your foot strike.

The degree of pain related to your shin splints from forefoot running reflects the amount of tension and strain in the foot and toes, and is an indicator of a forefoot strike that is forced. In the video above, notice the movements of the foot are not forced. The foot-ankle complex is purely relaxed at all times.

My Experience with Shin Splints From Forefoot Running

When I first transitioned to forefoot running from heel strike running, I dealt with horrible posterior-medial shin splints for months on end. However, my shin pain subsided, almost instantly, when I figured out I was 1. flexing my toes too much while forcing the balls of my foot to the ground, 2. not allowing my heel to drop, 3. not relaxing my foot-ankle complex.

I then stumbled-upon Tirunesh Dibaba’s forefoot strike technique (the runner featured in the videos above) which helped tie everything together with respects to the proper movement pattern of the foot. Forefoot running is not that technical and involves relaxing more than forcing movements.

More From Run Forefoot:

References:

Cibulka et al. Shin splints and forefoot contact running: a case report. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 20, 98-102.

Kentor, LA. (1948). Survey of the etiology of shin splints. Master’s thesis, Springfield College, Springfield, MA.

Lieberman et al. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463, 531-5.

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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