How the Right Running Shoes Can Help You Avoid Shin Splints

Buying Guide

The possibility of shin splints is a constant reality for runners. Wearing comfortable running shoes can help you avoid overexertion and shin pain.

Last updated: 15 June 2022
8 min read
Choosing Running Shoes for Shin Splints

You're three weeks into your new running programme and you feel like your body has grown wings. You're crushing the miles and increasing your distance on almost every run. You've added some hills and you're even throwing in some zippy speed intervals at the end of workouts.

Then, completely out of the blue, you start to feel a dull ache on the front part of your lower legs—and it's not going away. What now?

What you're probably experiencing is called shin splints. It's one of the most common injuries experienced by runners of all levels. But it tends to be more common amongst newer runners or those who are returning to running after a break.

Learning to prevent and manage the condition is key if you want to keep your running programme on track. Of course, you'll want to plan your workouts carefully and wear the right running shoes as a starting point. But there are additional ways to keep this injury from derailing your running success.

What Are Shin Splints?

Shin splints are an overuse condition characterised by pain around the shin or tibia area anywhere between the ankle and the knee.

The technical term for shin splints is "medial tibial stress syndrome" or MTSS. When MTSS first occurs, you're likely to feel discomfort only when exercising.

But if the condition worsens, you may feel pain all the time, experience redness or swelling in the lower leg, or see a bumpy area along the front of your shins.

Severe cases can lead to worse problems, including stress fractures or compartment syndrome.

Shin splints are an early stress injury that occurs after repeated episodes of bony overload during activities like running or jumping.

When the body is not adequately prepared for that overload, the membrane around the bone becomes inflamed, causing tenderness or pain.

Research suggests that shin splints can be a precursor to tibial stress fractures.

Running experts and sports medicine professionals have studied MTSS for years. Unfortunately, shin splints and running go hand in hand.

But MTSS is commonly seen in other types of athletes who run and jump, as well. For example, participation in American football, basketball, football and dancing can cause shin splints.

Common Causes of Shin Splints

There are several commonly cited causes of shin splints. But if you find yourself derailed with the injury, it can be hard to find the culprit.

  • Is hard pavement to blame for over-stressing your bones?
  • Is overtraining the problem?
  • Or can the wrong running shoes cause shin splints?

The answer is that any of these factors may contribute to shin splints. Or, it could be a combination of a few different factors.

3 Most Likely Reasons for Shin Splints

  1. 1.Hard Pavement

    Running on hard concrete surfaces can put undue stress on your lower body—especially if your body isn't used to it.

    In fact, even if you're a regular runner, switching the surface you run on can be problematic.

    For instance, if you frequently run on a treadmill or an off-road trail, changing to running on the road might lead to shin splints unless you gradually introduce the new terrain.

    In addition, some sports medicine professionals cite running on uneven surfaces as a common cause of shin splints.

  2. 2.Quickly Increasing Mileage

    Increasing your mileage too quickly can cause a myriad of training issues and shin splints are just one of them.

    New runners who are fit and those returning to running after taking a break (especially due to an injury) might feel the urge to challenge themselves with longer runs before their body has adjusted to the new workload.

    Runners with previous lower-body injuries and those running more than 20 miles per week have increased risk of shin splints.

  3. 3.Wearing the Wrong Shoes

    Wearing old, worn-out running shoes is a quick and easy path to shin splints.

    Flip your shoes over and take a look at the soles. Is the tread pattern worn down? Is there an uneven wear surface on one side?

    In general, it's best to replace your running shoes every 250 to 500 miles so that you maintain optimum cushioning and traction. That number can vary based on body weight, running style and training surface.

    The bottom line is, most shoes lose up to 40% of their shock-absorbing capabilities and overall support at around that range. When in doubt, check the soles of your shoes.

    Another shoe-related issue is wearing a shoe that is not a good biomechanical match for your foot. Wearing a properly fitting shoe designed for your biomechanical needs can reduce the incidence of shin splints. Talk to a shoe expert at a Nike store or your local running outfitter to learn more.

The Best Running Shoes for Shin Splints

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to running shoes. The best shoe for you depends on your foot structure, your running style and the terrain where you plan to run. But if shin splints are a concern, here are a few things to consider.

Increased foot pronation may put you at risk of shin splints. Pronation is the natural movement that occurs in your foot when you take a step forwards. Your weight moves from the heel and distributes itself forwards and slightly inwards through the ball of the foot.

Overpronation tends to occur in those who have flat feet. When you overpronate, the inward roll is exaggerated. As a result, the arches can collapse and your ankle may start to roll inwards. Over time, this can lead to injury, including shin splints. But a stability shoe can help.

Stability shoes are designed to hold your foot in a secure position to minimise the impact of overpronation. Some studies on running mechanics indicate that the best shoes for shin splints are designed to support the arch of the foot and provide greater stability through the midsole that extends to the heel.

In addition, a wide, exaggerated shape can help provide a more stable and secure ride and a panel at the heel can help you maintain proper foot and ankle alignment.

There has been some concern in recent years that stability shoes may cause shin splints. In fact, some runners have taken up barefoot running to reduce injuries.

But wearing minimalist running shoes may create an increased risk for calf and shin pain. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has expressed concern about this trend.

While the organisation acknowledges that barefoot running may spread out impact stresses among muscles, it does not find clear evidence that barefoot running reduces the risk for any injury.

Your best bet is probably to wear cushioned shoes with good shock absorption. Look for shoes that provide durable foam for the three phases of a runner's stride.

Shoes with a rocker shape, for example, can give you flexibility when your foot rises off the ground, a smooth ride when your foot is moving forwards and stable cushioning at ground contact. Higher foam height and less material between the insole and midsole also help create a more responsive experience.

Lastly, when shopping for shoes that help prevent shin splints, look for shoes that have been tested to reduce injury.

For instance, as part of the Project: Run Fearless programme, scientists at the Nike Sports Research Lab have combined clinical evidence about running mechanics with insights from real runners to develop a responsive, lightweight shoe that still provides comfort and support.

Each time the lab releases a new Project: Run Fearless shoe, they submit it for rigorous testing to see if it actually helps reduce running-related injuries. Recent study results indicate that their designs are on the right track.

But these shoe experts also advise that a shoe alone can't keep you healthy. Other factors play an essential role in keeping you injury free.

Importance of a Varied Running Routine

The experts at the Nike Sports Research Lab advise runners to diversify their running programme.

The lab's studies involve hundreds of runners who follow a variable training programme. These runners use tools like the Nike Run Club App to mix up their routines with speed and track workouts, intervals, long, slow distance runs and recovery runs.

A varied programme not only helps to keep you injury free but also helps you to maintain optimal motivation and inspiration.

6 Tips to Avoid Shin Splints

  1. 1.Alternate Running Shoes

    Alternate different pairs of running shoes, especially when one pair is wet. If you run every day or every other day, have at least two pairs of running shoes. Give each pair a day to "rest" so that you get the full benefit of cushioning and responsiveness during every workout.

  2. 2.Increase Mileage Slowly

    Don't increase your distances too fast. Use the 10% rule: add no more than 10% in distance or speed each week to give your body a chance to adapt gradually and avoid injury.

  3. 3.Stretch and Strengthen

    Introduce stretching and strengthening exercises to reduce shin splints. Do a few calf raises and toe taps before or after your runs, stretch the toes by holding a plank position (which is great for your core, too!) and increase lower-body stability by balancing on a single leg for 30–60 seconds.

  4. 4.Try a Graded Running Programme

    A graded running programme can help you build lower-leg strength. Start by running on a treadmill and increasing the incline for short periods to build strength and allow your lower body to adapt. Gradually increase the duration at an incline and then increase the incline percentage. Once you feel confident, progress to running hills outside on the pavement.

  5. 5.Wear Sports Compression Socks

    Compression socks may help speed up your recovery. Research has suggested that compression of the tibia and the surrounding soft tissues may also help boost bone development.

  6. 6.Remember to Listen to Your Body

    If you feel aches and pains in your shins or anywhere else, take note and take a break if necessary. You may need to make minor tweaks to your programme to make a big difference in your long-term success.

Choosing Running Shoes for Shin Splints

Explore NRC

Everything you need to start running, keep running and enjoy running more.

Originally published: 13 September 2021

Related Stories

How Should Running Shoes Fit?

Buying Guide

Running Shoe Fit Guide: What to Look for When You Shop

Selecting the Best Running Shoes for Supination

Buying Guide

Selecting the Right Running Shoes for Supination

How to Find the Best Shoes for Wide Feet

Buying Guide

Here's How to Find the Best Shoes for Wide Feet

The Best Nike Running Shoes for Cross Country

Buying Guide

Shop These Nike Running Shoes for Cross Country

5 Best Running Shoe Lacing Techniques

Styling Tips

5 Running-Shoe Lacing Techniques for a Better Run