What Foot Strike Causes Shin Splints?

Researchers have revealed a very strong association between landing with a forefoot strike and a substantially lower risk of shin splints, whereas heel strike running is now being pegged as a major source of not just shin splints, but shin fracture as well. Here’s why:

How Forefoot Running Prevents Shin Splints Better than Heel Strike Running

When you land with a forefoot strike, shown above, the front of your foot points down upon and at landing to make initial contact on the balls of the foot,  not high up on the toes, but rather a much flatter placement of the foot, then the heel drops down to the ground. For a more clear-eyed view of how this looks, here’s my Youtube video showing exactly the proper forefoot strike.

A fast-growing body of research (references below article) discovered the action of pointing the front of the foot down upon and at landing in a forefoot strike prevented the kinds of impact that directly causes shin splints. More specifically, this specific action of the foot at landing proved to be important in easily reducing intramuscular pressure of the lower leg, whereby stark increases in intramuscular pressure of the lower leg causes shin splints.

In that regard, one of the big reasons heel strike running is a contributing factor to shin splints and fracture is because the front of the foot (i.e. forefoot) needs to lift up in order to heel strike, shown below:  

Heel Striking Running Causes Shin Slpints

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The consequence of the repetitive forefoot-lifting at each step was found to  increase tension in the shin’s connective tissue compartments, which also increases impact loading, micro-tearing and swelling on the shins as well.

What’s worse, heel strike running puts additional strain on the shins by encouraging lunge-like strides that produces an over-stride which drives up the magnitude of peak compressive forces, posterior shearing forces, vertical ground reaction forces and braking forces. These forces were found to expose the shin bone to an even greater risk for fracture.

This is why foot strike pattern in running has been a hot topic of debate because it turns out, the key mechanics engaged just by landing with a forefoot strike best suits the protection of  your shins by naturally unburdening the shins through preventing an over-stride, which instantly eliminates the peak compressive force, posterior shearing forces, vertical ground reaction forces and braking forces. 

How Forefoot Running Prevents Shins Splints Over Heel Strike Running
Landing on your forefoot also makes the most functional use of the knee, allowing it to bend more easily at landing which was found to be the only method that prevents over-striding and the array of accompanying forces that flows from it.

The evidence is so strong and credible that forefoot running is a far more effective way as a better long term solution to reliably safeguard, not just the shins, but the knees, hips and lower back than heel strike running ,since your mechanics are much better ordered when you land on the balls of your foot, not on the heel. 

Still on the fence about forefoot running vs heel strike running? Here are all the evidence-based reasons forefoot running should be the first resort to injury prevention.


Burr, D.B., Forwood, M.R., Fyhrie, D.P., Martin, R.B., Schaffler, M.B., Turner, C.H., 1997. Perspective: bone microdamage and skeletal fragility in osteoporotic and stress fractures. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 12, 6–15.

Mori, S., Burr, D.B., 1993. Increased intracortical remodeling following fatigue damage. Bone 14, 103–109.

Sasimontonkul, S., Bay, B.K., Pavol, M.L., 2007. Bone contact forces on the distal tibia during the stance phase of running. Journal of Biomechanics 4, 3503- 3509.

Schaffler, M.B., Jepsen, K.J., 2000. Fatigue and repair in bone. International Journal of Fatigue 22, 839–846.

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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!