Understanding causes of and preventing shin splints

Published 10:20 am Friday, April 26, 2013

Now that warm weather’s here, more folks are outside, and enjoy walking, running, tennis, basketball, racquetball and hiking, among other foot bearing activities.

With all this though, often comes that ole Spring time malady “shin splints,” and if you’ve ever had them, you know how painful, and aggravating they can be. Shin splints are generally described as soreness that occurs in the front of the lower leg. Although painful, a shin splint isn’t usually an actual injury, but rather a syndrome or condition. So what is a shin splint anyway?

Shin splints (Tibial Stress Syndrome), occur when one, or several muscles (usually the anterior tibialis) are overworked, and pull on the two lower leg bones, the tibia (shin bone), and the fibula (calf bone). Shin splints are usually caused one of two ways.

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First is overexertion, like running on hard surfaces, exercising too quickly after a long Winters lay off, poor shoe quality, or running on uneven ground. A second cause of shin splints is referred to as biomechanical, and can be a bit more complicated to diagnose. These have more to do with the individual. Everyone walks and runs differently. Some have a short gait (stride), while others gait is long. Most everyone, while walking or running touches their outside heel down first, with their foot rotating inward to support them. Simply put, some feet turn inward just enough (normal pronation), but some turn in too much (over pronation), and some feet don’t turn in enough (under pronation). Other biomechanical causes of shin splints can be flat feet, walking or running with toes pointed outward (duck feet) or toes pointed inward (pigeon toed). By the way, as a sprint coach I can tell you, the fastest runners (sprinters) are almost always pigeon toed.