Q+A: Forefoot Running and Shin Pain

Forefoot Running and Shin Pain

by Tony Nuñez, PhD

Shin pain is a perpetual problem for runners. Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) causes symptoms like shin splints and occurs when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels.

Researchers hypothesized that changing gait by running with a forefoot strike (landing on the ball of the foot rather than the heel) could ease pain associated with CECS by shortening stride length and decreasing heel striking. They worked with 10 military members training for the Army Physical Fitness Test—which includes a 2-mile run—who were suffering from CECS and faced possible surgery. Participants performed 6 weeks of forefoot running to alleviate the pain.

Results showed a significant decrease in pain symptoms, with increases in running speed and distance, after switching to the forefoot running style. Furthermore, participants could do the 2-mile run faster at a 1-year follow-up than they could immediately after the intervention. And none of the 10 needed surgery.

If you have running clients suffering from shin pain, it may be helpful to explore their running motion to see if a forefoot running style alleviates the discomfort.

REFERENCE: Diebal, A.R., et al. 2012. Forefoot running improves pain and disability associated with chronic exertional compartment syndrome. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 40 (5), 1060–67.

Have a question for our experts? Send it to AmericanFitness@nasm.org.

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Nunez TONY P. NUÑEZ, PHD, is an assistant professor in exercise science at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He is an active researcher and presenter in the exercise physiology and fitness field.

The information provided is without warranty or guarantee and NASM disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information. Learn more