Shin splints in running shoes but not hiking boots?

I’ve struggled with shin pain for years - even a brisk walk results in burning pain down the front of my shins. I used to run, and tried everything I could think of - various shoes, certain exercises that were supposed to help, custom orthotics, even running barefoot. I kept on trying, and ended up with stress fractures in both shins. So end of running.

But I recently went on a trip with several days of long hikes (10+ miles) and realized I experienced absolutely NO shin pain! Even with a fast pace and a 25 pound pack, not even a hint of shin soreness or pain.

So what is it about hiking boots that would result in this? I’ve tried Google, but all I can find are people that are getting shin splints in boots, not pain alleviation. I’m hoping I can find a running or walking shoe that has that magical element (Whatever it is), so that even if I still can’t run, maybe I can at least walk without pain. So any ideas?

I spend a lot of time running and hiking (when my pelvis isn’t broken), I’ll offer my non-expert thoughts.

Feet are notoriously variable among individuals, so the first thing I’d say is that you just need to continue experimenting (as you have been) to find out what works for you. There’s no universally applicable solution for any foot problem.

Next, I’d say try to be ruthlessly scientific about what evidence you have. You don’t know that hiking boots per se are solving your problem. What you know is that the condition is alleviated when you are hiking rather than running, and when you are wearing these particular boots.

Even with a pack, the foot strike from walking imparts less stress than the foot strike from running, so it might not be connected to the footwear at all. There’s an obvious easy experiment that you can do to test this - go hiking wearing your running shoes. Plenty of people hike in running shoes anyway, and with a light 25lb pack on well-made trails you don’t need the protection of boots. That will narrow things down for you.

If it turns out that it is indeed the boots that are helping, I still would not assume that it is the fact that they are boots per se that’s the factor. Finding a last shape that fits your fit just right may be the thing, or it may be the heel-toe drop (how far the heel is elevated). Most boot brands make shoes too, so try to find a running shoe that’s made on the same last with a similar drop.

As a separate footnote, personally the last thing I’d try with your problems is running barefoot. I’d go to the opposite end of the spectrum, and try extreme cushioning to reduce stress. If they fit your feet, Hoka One One is a niche brand that makes highly cushioned shoes.

Shin splints are an inflammation of the muscles. Stress fractures are a break in the bone. Totally different things, not related though they can feel the same.
It’s possible that you didn’t have splints to begin with but stress fractures from the start.

Running shoes are highly variable, some running stores can watch you run and how your feet react to recommend shoes.
Just randomly trying shoes is a crapshoot.

I agree with Riemann on the lower impact(plus soft surfaces) being a factor with boots while hiking.

I did Half Dome several times in running shoes.

Thank you Riemann, I will definitely try those suggestions to see if I can narrow down what’s going on.

Yeah that was a less-than-successful experiment, but it was when the barefoot running craze was really getting started and I was desperate to try anything and everything to help with the pain.

I saw a sports medicine doctor and he said the stress fractures were due to the shin splints. Because the shin muscle stopped absorbing shock, it was instead transferred to the bone. He’s the one that suggested the orthotics and exercises, but said that if I continued to run while having shin splints that I would continue to get stress fractures.

The cause of stress fractures is generally increasing mileage too quickly. When a bone is stress, the body tears down the bone along the lines of stress and rebuilds with new, stronger bone. The “teardown” tends to be at the same time a new runner is adjusting to running and increases mileage too quickly, overwhelming the weakened bone.

The bone is always subject to shock, even without shin splints.

Growing up, what was your calcium intake? What is it now?

What exercises were recommended?
Do you overstride or try too hard to run on your toes?

I had shin splints all through Basic. Running barefoot did help me, but not when they were inflamed. It helped force me NOT to heel strike. Work on your hair, try to work on landing softer, with your foot more under you, instead of way out in front. Instead of reaching out, speed up your turnover.