How to Leave Shin Splints in Your Dust

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Thu Sep 29th, 2011, No comments (be the first!)

There are very few runners I've come across that haven't, at some point in their running careers, had a case of shin splints varying in degree, ranging from mild shin pain to a debilitating stress fracture of the tibia. However, while it is one of the most common running injuries, it is both curable and preventable with the Chi Running technique. Remember, it’s not your shins that create shin splints. It's the way you're running.

What are shin splints?
Shin splints, or medial tibial syndrome, is a catch-all phrase for a number of ailments that occur in the lower leg. 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 involve a lengthy healing process.

How are shin splints caused?
The two primary causes of shin splints are:

• Excess impact to the lower legs, primarily created by heel striking (rather than the preferred midfoot strike)
• Overuse of the lower legs (a result of pushing off with the toes to propel forward)

Excess impact to the lower legs
Heel striking occurs when you're running with your trunk upright and reaching forward with your legs as you stride, commonly known as over-striding. With each step, your heel must make contact with the ground first as you work to pull yourself forward with your feet and legs. This sends a wave of impact up your ankles, shins, knees and IT Band with each step.

If you're a heel striker, the repetitive shock of running with 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 and/or tenderness in your shins that can worsen over time if no correction is made.

Overuse of the lower legs
Overuse of the lower legs is caused by pushing off with the toes, which in turn causes the calf and shin muscles to do more work than they are designed to do. Compared to your quadriceps, hamstrings and core muscles, the muscles in your shins (tibialis anterior) are relatively small and can become easily over-worked. In fact, when you push off with your toes, your calves and shins must support your entire body weight while simultaneously propelling your weight up against the downward pull of gravity.

Other ways the lower legs can be overused:

• running too far or too fast before the legs are properly conditioned (a common problem for beginner runners)
• beginning running too fast without allowing your muscles to warm up
• running in old, worn-out running shoes
• extended downhill running
• running on an unstable surface (like snow or ice)
• running on a treadmill
• running on a side-sloping street

How do I prevent and heal shin splints with Chi Running?
The pain of your shin splints might go away with rest, but as soon as you get back to running, the symptoms will most likely return. Most doctors will tell you to gradually strengthen the muscles in your lower legs by running slowly, doing calf raises or walking on your heels. Another common remedy is to ice the shins for 15 minutes three to four times a day to reduce inflammation. With diligence, these treatments can help to heal your shin splints. But, in the big picture, they only provide temporary relief of the symptoms rather than eliminating the issue of impact and/or overuse.

The best solution to prevent the overuse of the lower leg muscles is not to use them, and the Chi Running technique can teach you how:

• Engage the pull of gravity by leaning slightly forward, allowing your lower legs to relax while you run. By falling forward with the pull of gravity, there is really no need to push yourself with your legs.

• Use your legs for momentary support between strides, not for propulsion. Practice this exercise: Stand in place and alternately pick your feet up off the ground. Let your toes dangle loosely while you're picking up your feet, keeping your shins, calves, feet and toes relaxed. You'll see that this minimal style running requires no lower leg muscles. If you can do this while standing, you can easily do it while running. As you're running, remember that all you need to do is pick up your feet (but not push!) to keep up with your forward fall.

• Let your feet land slightly behind your center of gravity, allowing your leg to swing rearward as your foot hits the ground. This is an effortless way to prevent heel striking and encourage a midfoot strike.

With practice, you can learn a minimal style running that never overworks your legs. Think of it this way: if you don't use them, you can't abuse them. Keep your legs relaxed whenever you're running or walking, and your running future will look a lot rosier.


  • shin splints,
  • Leg Pain,
  • Shin Pain

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