The Whole Story on Shin Splints

By Danny Dreyer | Active.com 

If I were to do a study regarding-running related injuries, I’d bet money that the hottest topic would be shin splints. There are very few runners I’ve come across that haven’t, at some point in their running career, had a case of shin splints; varying in degree from mild shin pain to a debilitating stress fracture of the tibia.

But although it is one of the most common injuries know to runners, it is both curable and preventable. If you’re concerned about the health of those shins of yours, read on and find out how you can avoid having shin splints for the rest of your life.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints are sort of a catch-all phrase for a number of ailments that occur in the lower leg. The medical name for shin splints is medial tibial syndrome. In the mildest cases, shin splints are the inflammation of the fascia (connective tissue) that covers and connects the muscles of the lower leg to the bone (the tibia). In the worst cases, the fascia is under such stress that it actually separates from the tibia, which is very painful and can, in some cases, involve a rather slow healing process.

How are shin splints caused?

There are two main causes of shin splints: the first is too much impact to the lower legs, which is primarily created by heel striking. The second main cause is overuse of the lower legs while running. Overuse injuries primarily happen when you push off with your toes to propel yourself forward.

Let’s review these two issues in more detail:

Too much impact to the lower legs: If you’re a heel striker, the repetitive shock of your heels hitting the ground will irritate the fascia (the connective tissue) in the muscles of your lower legs, especially your shins. When the fascia becomes irritated or inflamed you’ll feel discomfort in your shins that could worsen over time if no correction is made.

Impact to the lower legs can happen in a variety of ways. Here are a few:

  • Running in old, worn-out running shoes
  • Heavy heal striking
  • Extended downhill running
  • Running on an unstable surface (like snow or ice)
  • Running on a treadmill
  • Running on a side-sloping street

To reduce the amount of shock to your legs, it is important to eliminate any heel strike while running. Heel strike happens when you run with your trunk upright and reach forward with your legs as you stride–commonly called over-striding.

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