Dr. WildeShin Splints: The Runners Curse

Written by Dr. Jordan Wilde, DC

Milwaukie Spine and Sport

Starting Running

It is a wonderful time, you’ve made a decision to get moving or have changed up your exercise routine. Now you are hitting the street, trail, or track and are running, hiking, or walking. It is exciting to see the progress that you are making, you are enthused by the extra energy that you have, and clothes might even be fitting better. The only trouble is that pain in your lower leg. You ignored it at first, hoping that it will go away, but it hasn’t. Actually, it seems to be getting worse. Each step you take brings on that lower leg pain, it’s sharp, around your shin, and now you are forced to stop training. This is is a common story that many athletes have experienced. Shin splints are a common injury with training, but it is often not well understood. We will take some time to learn what shin splints are, how they are caused, and the effective treatments for them.

Getting the Curse

The term “shin splints” is a general term that refers to a strain of a lower leg muscle. This strain is caused by repetitive/overuse of the muscle and is typically associated with running but can certainly be caused by hiking or walking as well. This strain of the muscle causes irritation, inflammation, and swelling which leads to pain with activity and even to the touch. There are two different types of “shin splint” injuries: anterior shin splints and posterior shin splints. They are associated with strains to different muscles, have different causes, and are treated with different methods. This makes it very important to be able to differentiate between the two different injuries.

Types of Shin Splints

Anterior shin splints are caused by a strain to the tibialis anterior muscle. This muscle is responsible for lifting our foot up so that we do not drag our toes on the ground during our gait. This injury will cause pain that is located on the front of your shin. It is caused by our plantar flexor muscles or “calves” being too tight. This tension of the muscles on the back of our lower leg causes an imbalance that forces the much smaller and weaker muscle on the front of our lower leg to be overworked with each step. Posterior shin splints are caused by a strain to the tibialis posterior muscle. This muscle is a dynamic stabilizer of ankle and foot. It helps to limit pronation and maintain the medial longitudinal arch of the foot. This injury will cause pain that is located on the medial or inside portion of the shin. During our gait all of our body weight is place on our feet and running increases the weight and forces further. Collapsed arches, flat feet, or improper footwear can predispose a person to this injury.

Ways to Treat Shin Splints

The pain associated with shin splints can be severe and prevent you from engaging in the activities you would like to. The good news is that treatment for shin splints is very effective. It will speed up your recovery time, get you back training sooner, and help to prevent future injury. Effective treatments include joint manipulation, Active Release Technique, Graston, Kinesio taping, rehabilitative exercises and stretching, cross training, customizable orthotic inserts, ice, and low level/cold laser therapies.
If you are suffering from shin splints or know someone who is, get the treatment needed and get back out there. Life is too much fun and exercise is too good for us to be held back. See your local sports physician, a chiropractor or physical therapist, and get back in the game.