Why do you get shin splints?

Shin splints is a common running injury.  Most people do not understand how or why they get them since there is no real trauma involved, no incident that they can point to where they hurt their shin but yet the pain can be intense.  Understanding how and why you get shin splints can help with the treatment and also help make sure they do not come back.


When we discuss shin splints and the pain associated with them it is only pain in the front of the lower leg, on the shin.  If you have pain anywhere else in the leg, it is not shin splints.  While you may have multiple issues and not only shin splints the pain with shin splints is only in the shin.  There is no weakness or numbness, or tingling associated with shin splints either.  Again, this is something entirely different going on.   It is important to differentiate between the different pains that can found in the leg.  While it is often common to have several diagnoses and not just shin splints, it is important for treatment that you figure out all the problems that may be occurring in the leg.


The following are common reasons that you can get shin splints.

  1.  Footwear

Flip-flops, barefoot, high heels, flat shoes are just a few examples of improper footwear that can cause shin splints.  Wearing a shoe with no support like a flip flop or a high heel causes excess stress on the foot.  This causes increased stress on the shin and the muscles of the foot and knee.

Proper footwear can allow for the foot to be put in the correct position and it also can help to provide shock absorption.  Most people do not have a perfectly designed foot, they need help in either the shock absorption area or the support area.  What your foot cannot provide, the shoe you wear should.  If the shoe does not provide what the foot is missing the muscles of the foot, knee and hip are going to have to work harder to provide what is missing.

In order to find out what your foot is missing, you need to be properly fitted.  If you have never been fitted you should go to a running shoe store and be properly fitted.

Do not wait to for your running shoe to show wear before you replace it.  You should track how many miles you put on a running shoe and limit that to 300 miles.  You will not see wear on the outside of the shoe most likely.  Do not wait for the shoe to start to show wear before you replace it, this is when you can start to develop injuries.  The shoe will always breakdown on the inside before you will start to see any wear on the outside.


2. Overuse

This is the one thing that is the hardest to fix because most people do not even know that they are overusing it.  Let us say that there is a small pain in your hip or knee or maybe it is something more obviously like a rolled ankle.  It is not enough to stop you or even pay attention to, but you will wind up subtly changing how your foot is positioned.  This is nothing that you will notice.  Over time though this small change can become more permanent and cause of overuse of the muscles of the foot, hip and knee.  This change in how you use your muscles can cause shin splints.

Many times, you can start off a run and feel some pain but the longer you run, it seems the pain goes away.  Or maybe the pain comes up in the middle of the run but if you keep running, the pain seemingly goes away.  But the pain does not go away, you just compensate for it or change the way you are walking, slightly not enough for you or anyone else to notice but enough to cause shin splints.

2.  Weakness

Weakness in the hip or abdominals can cause a muscle imbalance.  Having weakness in the hip and abdominals causes the muscles in the lower leg to work harder.  The muscles in the front of the shin have to work to make up for the lack of hip and knee strength that you may have.  It takes a certain amount of strength to run. If you are lacking that strength in the hips and abdominals, the lower legs will have to make up for the strength.  With the lower leg having to work harder, this can cause shin splints.  Where there is weakness there is also tightness and having muscles that are tight allow for other muscles to work harder causing tendinitis, which is what shin splints are.


Fixes for shin splints

  1.  Get fitted for proper shoe wear and if you have been fitted eliminate the time you spend in shoes other than the properly fitted shoes.  Walking even for a small amount of time without the proper footwear can lead and perpetuate an exacerbation.
  2. Strengthen the weak muscles

The first exercise you can do is to tap your foot.  This can help balance out the weakness that normally occurs with the muscle in the back of the leg, the gastroc being stronger than the front of the leg.

The second exercise is a hip hike.  Stand on a step with one foot.  Keep the leg on the step completely straight you can drop the hip down and then hike it up.  If your left leg is on the step.  Keep the left leg straight and then drop the right hip down.  Do not bend the knee on the left leg.  You can watch our You Tube vide to see an example of what you can do, click here to go to the video.

You can do 3 sets of 15.  You will feel this in the leg that is standing on the step, not in the hip that is dropping down.

3. Stretch out the front of the shin

Take off your shoe.  Curl your toes under trying to have the front of your foot touch the ground.  It will not but that the motion that you want to perform.  Again, you can see this stretch by watching this video by clicking here.  Hold 30 seconds for 6 times.

4.  Foam roll the shins

While stretching can be done throughout the day, you will need to break up the knots (sore spots) on the shin.  Foam rolling on the front of the shin may be painful, but it is necessary in order to eliminate the shin splints.

5.  Determine the exact cause of the shin splint

It is very important that you find all of the reasons that you have shin splints.  It is important that you consult a physical therapist to determine all the reasons why you have shin splints.  Just addressing the pain on the front of the shin is only a temporary fix you need to find all of the sources of the pain.  If you live in Montgomery County or Bucks County PA, and want a FREE consultation with a physical therapist, just click here to enter your information. 



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