In 2009, Christopher McDougall published Born to Run, a wildly popular ode to barefoot running and by 2011 the born to run trend had soared to new heights, becoming a $6 billion industry. McDougall wrote the book because he was prone to running overuse injuries like shin splints and found that barefoot or minimalist running seemed to alleviate his pain.
Shin splint pain is usually felt down the front and sides of the lower legs and ranges from slightly sore to excruciating. It’s caused by a number of factors including running too much, too soon, over training, and bone density issues associated with diet and aging.
Shin Splints and Barefoot Running
The barefoot running trend is encompassed by the idea that our bodies evolved toward shoeless running. Excessive padding covers up our natural stride. While we should be landing on the mid or forefoot, running shoes force us to land on an overly cushioned heel.
But this overlooks the positive aspects of running shoes. Modern footwear prevents overpronation, when the runner’s ankle rolls inward with each stride, which can also cause shin splints. Running shoes also prevent injury from the obvious hazards of broken glass, nails, and dangerous debris. And barefoot running causes us to dramatically alter our stride, which can also result in injury.
One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that barefoot runners are more likely to strike on the ball of the foot rather than injury prone heel striking. But the resulting research was otherwise somewhat inconclusive.
“The bottom line is that when a runner goes from shoes to no shoes, their body may not automatically change its gait,” University of Central Florida professor Carey Rothschild said. “Stress fractures on the front part of the foot and increased soreness in the calves can result from suddenly attempting to shift weight away from the heels after running one way for years.” Still, of the barefoot runners Rothschild surveyed, 42 percent reported no negative effects from the switch.
Avoiding Shin Splints
Avoid shin splints and other overuse running injuries by starting small and building up gradually. Start with low mileage and take 1 to 2 days of rest between runs. Uphill training can also help prevent shin splints because it’s hard to overdo it running uphill. Also, eat a healthy diet with ample carbohydrates and protein. You can also treat shin splints with natural anti-inflammatory topical creams that include ginger and menthol.
Sara Novak is a Natural Health Care Expert for Zax Health. Follow her on Twitter at @sarafnovak.