Better Runner Series: Shin Splints Part 1

What are Shin Splints and how can we prevent it?

Let’s first talk about what goes on with shin splints. It is an overuse injury caused by repetitive tension to your shin bone either from the muscles attached in front of your shin or the muscles behind it. But why do other people not experience shin splints when all runners perform the same repetitive motions in their lower leg and activate the same muscles? It might be because of the following factors:

Abrupt increase in pace or daily to weekly mileage

  • You should let your body adapt to stress to avoid an overuse injury
  • Following the 10-15% rule in increasing your mileage/pace is a good rule to follow for you to train your body’s resiliency as you train for a long-distance run

Running mechanics

  • Increased strides tend to activate your tibialis anterior (a dorsiflexor muscle attached to your shin bone – motion which points your foot up) more as you try to reach out your foot further, each step prolonging your dorsiflexion time.
  • Heel Striker- Aside from poor shock absorption which leads to poor pounding of your lower extremity joints, you also tend to activate your tibialis anterior more when your foot always favors hitting the floor with your heel first due to the increased dorsiflexion angle you must position your foot with this type of landing
  • Over pronation and supination of your foot when running can cause an increased stress on the muscles which connects your shin bone to your foot. It can also lead to compensatory motions which do not favor proper stress loading on your shin bones.

Muscle Weakness

  • Poor muscle strength in your lower leg can cause poor ankle and leg stability leading to decreased tolerance to repetitive tension on your shin.
  • If your Tibialis anterior (front shin muscles)/ Calf muscles (Back shin muscles) are not able to activate well due to weakness, this affects their ability to consistently perform controlled lengthening and shortening contractions leading to the shin bone receiving inconsistent stress loading and then other factors arise such as compensations on the foot or the upper joints such as knee and hip which further causes a faulty running mechanics

Muscle Tightness

  • Calf tightness- a part of the muscle fibers on your calf muscles originates from your shin bone and with running, you are always activating these muscles as their prime function is to plantarflex the foot or to push off your body at the ankle joint.
  • If these muscles are tighter than normal, you already have an increased tension in your shin which will be aggravated once you start running, leading to repetitive irritation in your shin bone from both the tightness and tension from running itself

Running Shoes

  • Running with poor footwear can lead to faulty mechanics, not just in your ankle and foot but also to your knee, hip, and back. This disrupts the way you activate your muscles, load your joints, impairs your energy efficiency, and overall performance which can lead to running injuries.
  • Do you have ankle or foot instability? If so, are you running with footwear with good stabilizing function?
  • Does your foot over pronate or supinate? Then you might need a shoe that has good medial arch support or increased lateral cushioning
  • Does your heel hurt when you run? Does it hurt for the first couple of minutes or meters, but it then goes away? You might need footwear with good heel cushioning.
  • We don’t expect you to know how to evaluate yourself but just be aware of your pain locations and feelings of instability when running. A lot of running shoe stores are now offering free assessment so they can recommend the best shoes for you.

For beginners, running may be as simple as going out and speeding up to finish a mile but as you make this part of your weekly or daily routine, as you start enjoying it and training to be a long-distance runner, you have to remember that your body is working more. It is crucial that you start learning and understanding how to prevent running injuries or recover the best way possible without needing surgery and not depending on medications.

Check out our Part 2 blog where we will be discussing the top routines, exercises, and stretches for you to recover quickly from shin splints!

Do you have an upcoming run, but limited by pain?  Worried that your current injury might get worse? Got questions about your pain or injury?

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Sabino Cocos - Owner of Coactiv

Dr. Sabino Emil Cocos

CoActiv Physical Therapy

We Help Athletes And Active Adults Of Manatee And Sarasota County Move Better, Live Pain-Free, And Get Stronger Without Painkillers, Surgery, Or Injections