What You Should Know About Shin Splints
Injuries. We’ve all been there. They can be anywhere from annoying to downright frustrating. One of the most common injuries for runners is anterior shin splints. Shin splints are noted by pain in the front of the lower leg next to the shin bone or tibia. People suffering from shin splints typically describe it as a deep ache that is worse when bearing weight.
What are Shin Splints?
Simply put, anterior shin splints are the overuse of a muscle in your shin. When this muscle is over worked, it can start to pull away from the shin bone. This causes inflammation and pain.
What causes Shin Splints?
The muscle that is typically involved in anterior shin splints is the tibialis anterior. This muscle is responsible for lifting your foot up off the ground. Runners clearly do this at a high frequency which predisposes them to this injury.
The tibialis anterior is also involved in reducing the shock absorption in the feet. The muscle not only lifts the foot up but it also controls the rate at which the foot is lowered, allowing it to regulate the amount of force with which the feet impact the ground. This is typically what’s responsible for the overuse of the tibialis anterior in runners.
What to do About it
Obviously, form is a factor that needs to be assessed with any running injury. If your running form is such that you’re not properly distributing the impact of your foot strike, this muscle could try to make up for it and eventually become overused and injured. Adopting a mid-foot or forefoot strike is a good starting point.
You may also need to check your shoes. Shoes are a very important factor in overuse injuries. Throw out any worn shoes or donate them and invest in a pair of high quality running shoes. It is important to make sure you have adequate cushion in your shoes to properly absorb the impact and distribute it evenly.
We constantly run on hard, unforgiving surfaces that our bodies were not designed to tolerate. It may be possible for our bodies to adapt to this with minimally cushioned shoes but it will require focused attention to your running form. I recommended an experienced running coach to help you correct your form if you are using minimalist shoes or running barefoot (I do not recommend barefoot running for most people).
Proper strengthening and lengthening of specific muscles will most likely need to be addressed. Your tibialis anterior may be over-working because the muscles in your calves are too tight. If this is the case, stretching and soft tissue treatments are important to achieve optimal muscle balance.
Kinesiotape is another great option for overuse injuries as it doesn’t limit range of motion but adds some stability and proprioceptive properties. Custom orthotics can be helpful to correct any faulty foot mechanics. Graston Technique® and Active Release Technique® in conjunction with the steps listed makes for great outcomes in the treatment of shin splints.
When dealing with injuries, the best advice I can give you is to see someone…anyone! Some treatment is always better than no treatment. There are obviously options that are better than others but in general, someone with experience in treating sports injuries is your best bet. And, prevention is crucial. Do what you can to pay attention to your form, your shoes, and proper stretching and strengthening, and you’ll be more likely to keep injuries at bay.