Avoid Shin Splints By Not Heel Striking When Running

The shins are not supposed to be a common site of injury, but they are in runners –runners who heel strike that is. Previous studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between heel strike running and shin splints, suggesting that runners can avoid shin splints by not heel striking.

How Runners Can Avoid Shin Splints
For some reason, runners are more likely to heel strike in running shoes with high, cushioned heels, but are less likely to heel strike when running barefoot or their heel strike is less pronounced in flatter running shoes.

Avoid Shin Splints By Not Heel Striking When Running

Why does heel strike running cause shin pain as compared with forefoot running?

Landing with a heel strike increases bone contact forces, peak compressive forces and posterior shear forces than in forefoot running.

Interestingly enough, most runners heel strike unintentionally because of the cushioned heeled running shoes. Therefore, more realistically, running shoes is the direct cause of shin splints because they induce an incorrect, unnatural landing.

  • The conventional running shoe includes a built-up, cushioned heel to allow heel strike to feel comfortable when running. Yet, the elevated cushioned heel is part of the problem contributing to shin splints.

Cushioned heel running shoes modifies body posture by increasing plantar flexion, anterior pelvic tilt, and trunk extension during stance compared to barefoot conditions.

  • the heel height of a shoe has been found to alter the body center of mass (COM) whereby during walking gait (similar to heel strike running mechanics) the vertical position of the COM is higher thereby compromising gait stability

The findings question the protective role of a cushioned heel in running as the related postural disturbances may create conditions for high-impact running. And, the magnitude of impact at heel strike often exceeds the absorption capacity of the cushioned material under the heel.

Thick Heeled Running Shoes Cause Heel Strike

Numerous reports have demonstrated that the postural modifications caused by thick heeled running shoes encourages a heel strike landing when running, and may contribute to shin splints.

  • a cushioned heel may alter leg swing mechanics thereby increasing stride length and heel strike potential
  • upon heel strike,the connective muscular tissue surrounding the tibia (shin bone) hyper-contracts as the leg fully extends in front of the body.
How Heel Strike Running Causes Shin Tendonitis
Heel striking in running is most likley influenced by heel cushioning as barefoot running populations often present a non-heel strike running style. Pointing the toes up upon heel strike pulls and strains the connective tissue of the tibia contributing to shin splints

Heel Striking Increases Over Striding

At heel strike, the ankle and initial foot strike position is in front of the COM, resulting in a greater vertical displacement as well as rapid deceleration.

How Heel Strike Jogging Causes Shin Splints
When ankle/foot strike position is in front of the COM, this is referred to as over-striding which temporarily brakes the system and increases pressure on the lower leg.

The temporary, yet rapid braking force generated at heel strike has been strongly implicated in increasing intracompartmental pressure of the lower leg, allowing the development of shin splints.

Forefoot Running Reduces Over-Striding

Clinical studies on the protective effects of forefoot running have yielded promising results, making it an ideal form of treatment for heel strikers with compartment syndrome.

How Forefoot Running Fixes Shin Splints
In a forefoot strike landing, the forefoot lands close to or under the knee, this is how over-striding is eliminated and so is braking. In forefoot strike running, foot strike is less aggressive and may prevent accumulation of intramuscular pressure compared with heel strike running.

Diebal et al. demonstrated that switching from heel strike to forefoot running (with proper instruction) eliminated intramuscular pressure and shin splints.

If you want to learn more about forefoot running, here’s what a forefoot strike looks like.

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References:

Barkema,  DD.,  Derrick, TR, and Martin, PE. (2102). Heel height affects lower extremity frontal plane joint moments during walking. Gait Posture 35, 483–488.

Diebal et al. (2011). Effects of forefoot running on chronic excertional compartment syndrome: a case series. IJSPT 6, 312-321.

Kirby, RL and McDermott, P. (1983). Anterior compartment pressures during running with rearfoot and forefoot landing styles. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 64, 296 – 9.

Mika, A., Oleksy, L., Mika P., Marchewka, A. and Clark, BC. (2012). The effect of walking in high- and low-heeled shoes on erector spinae activity and pelvis kinematics during gait. Am J Phys Med Rehabil 91, 425–434.

Mika A, Oleksy Ł, Mika P, Marchewka A, Clark BC. (2012). The influence of heel height on lower extremity kinematics and leg
muscle activity during gait in young and middle-aged women. Gait Posture 35, 677–680.

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

2 Comments

  1. I suffer from posterior shin splints that have been driving me nuts for months on end, I’ve tried all the usual stuff that is recommend but they always came back. I’ve always been a forefoot striker but I’ve now changed to heel striking as this seems to cure my shin splints!. I’d be interested to hear if other runners have changed to heel striking to cure their shin splints.

  2. Opposite experience for me as I suffered from painful shin splints until tweaking my strike to a more forefoot. Shin splints gone and my calf muscles strengthened greatly

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