Can Heel-Striking Lead to Shin Splints?

Woman running on wooden path
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"I have only been running for a few weeks and have terrible pains in my shins. I thought it was because I am landing on my heel, but there is a lot of different advice online. Some recommend toe, some heel landing....what do you find works better?"

The middle of your foot is the best place to land when running. You should land mid-sole and then roll through to the front of your toes. If you land on your heels, you're stopping your forward momentum and creating a lot of stress and impact on your lower legs, which can lead to shin splints.

Landing on your toes overworks your calf muscles, which can be another contributing factor to shin splints and other overuse injuries.

Here are some ways you can try to avoid heel landing and practice landing on your mid-foot:

  • Most people will naturally land mid-sole when running without shoes. So try running on carpet, grass, or turf barefoot or in socks for short periods of time, so your body can find its natural stride. Start with 30 seconds at first and work your way up to a minute or more. This doesn't mean you should run barefoot all the time, since that could lead to injury. But running short intervals on a soft, safe surface allows you to practice mid-foot landing.
  • Another great way to practice mid-foot landing is by doing running drills such as butt kicks, skipping, high knees, running backwards, or side shuffles. When you do any of those drills, it’s impossible to land on your heels. So, the more you practice them, the more you’ll be accustomed to landing on the front part of your foot, as opposed to your heel. You can do running drills as part of your pre-run warm-up or work them into your run. For example, you could intersperse 30-second intervals of high knees or backwards running every 5-6 minutes during a 30-minute run.
  • Make sure that you don't lunge forward with your feet. This is especially important when running downhill, when many runners have a tendency to overstride. Focus on landing mid-sole, with your foot directly underneath your body with every step. Keep your arm swing low and short, so your feet stay underneath you and close to the ground. Try to keep your steps light and quick, as if you're stepping on hot coals.


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