The Whole Story on Shin Splints - Chi Running

The Whole Story on Shin Splints

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Sun Aug 14th, 2005, 26 comments


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. However, although it is one of the most common injuries known to runners, it is both curable and preventable. So, 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.
shin-splints
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 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  the excess of 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.

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. Chi Running offers a way to eliminate heel strike by leaning forward from your ankles as you run, thereby allowing your foot to strike underneath or even slightly behind your body. This allows you to land on your midfoot and your legs to swing to the rear as soon as your feet hit the ground, eliminating any heel strike.

Overuse of the lower legs

This is caused by pushing off with the toes, which in turn causes the calf and shin muscles to overwork. Anytime your body weight is supported by your toes, your calves and shins are required to do much more work than they were designed to do. In fact, if you're pushing off with your toes, you're actually increasing the workload to your calves and shins to be more than your body weight because you're pushing up against the downward pull of gravity. That's simply too big of a job for that relatively small group of lower leg muscles to handle. They'll get overworked and will eventually begin to complain in the form of soreness, inflammation and in some cases, become separated from the bone (the most painful version of shin splints).

Here are some other ways the lower legs can be overused. Beginning runners who are starting up a running program will often run too far or too fast before their legs are ready to sustain the distance or the speed they're running. Add to this the fact that almost all beginning runners push off with their toes, which increases the stress to their unconditioned legs, especially the shins. Many runners also start their runs too fast and don't allow their muscles to warm up enough before increasing their speed. Shin splints are also most likely to occur during track workouts involving speed intervals, and hill runs … both of which increase the amount of push-off with the toes.

Compared to your quadraceps, hamstrings and core muscles, the muscles in your shins (tibialis anterior) are relatively small and can become easily over-worked. The best solution to the overuse of the lower leg muscles is not to use them. With the Chi Running technique, you 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 be pushing yourself with your legs. All you really need to do is pick up your feet to keep up with your forward fall, which requires no lower leg muscles.

Try this: Stand in place and alternately pick your feet up off the ground. You'll see that it takes no lower leg muscles to pick up your feet. In fact you can let your legs just dangle from your knees while you're picking up your feet. See? No shin or calf muscles required. If you can do this while your standing, you can easily do the same thing while your walking and eventually learn to do it while running. This is one of the basic principles of the Chi Running technique … to run without using your lower legs for anything but momentary support between strides.

How do I heal my shin splints?
Doctors recommend that you rest your legs in order to your overworked shins muscles to heal. They suggest switching to swimming or some other form of exercise that doesn't require your lower legs.  Another common remedy is to ice the shins for 15 minutes three to four times a day to reduce inflammation. Periodically elevating your legs can help some too. With diligence,  these techniques can help to heal your shin splints. But, in the big picture, they really only provide temporary relief of the symptoms, because they don't really get rid of the cause of the problem … which is either overuse or impact to the lower legs. 

How to I prevent shin splints?
The pain of your shin splints might go away with rest, but as soon as you get back on your feet running again, you might notice the same old problem coming back to haunt you. If this is the case, you have a couple of options from which to choose. Most doctors will tell you that one option is to gradually strengthen the muscles in your lower legs by doing such things as running slowly, doing calf raises or walking on your heels. This will sometimes work, but is not necessarily a guaranteed way to permanently rid yourself of shin splints. Remember, it is not your shins that create shin splints. It's the way you run.

Chi Running offers a second alternative and a permanent cure for shin splints by teaching you how to run using your lower legs much less, if at all. By reducing or eliminating the use of your lower legs while running, you can greatly reduce your odds of getting shin splints.

Since gravity is your main source of forward propulsion, in Chi Running, you are left with only the job of picking up your feet with each stride to keep up with your forward fall. This takes almost all of the work off the lower legs because they are only needed for momentary support between strides, not for propulsion. This solves the problem of overuse.

As your body falls forward, your foot strike lands slightly behind your center of gravity allowing your leg to swing rearward as your foot hits the ground. This eliminates heel strike which, as I previously mentioned, is a major cause of shin splints and happens to be the cause of most knee injuries.  This solves the problem of too much impact to the legs.

With practice, you can learn to run without ever overworking your lower legs … and put the threat of shin splints out of your mind and body forever. Think of your lower legs this way: If you don't use them, you can't abuse them. Keep them relaxed whenever you're running or walking, and your running future will look a lot rosier.

 

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26 CommentsLeave a comment below

Kate Orawee Jul 1st, 2013 08:18pm

Dear Danny,
I’ve been dealing with shin splints couple months. I’ve tried to change my running shoes, running surfaces, stretch and rest. But it seems like it is only a temporary release. When I get back to running, it occurs again.
I would like to know where can I find Chi running instructor in Singapore.
Gratefully, Kate

Kate,
Sorry that you have been having troubles. Improving your technique with ChiRunning will help you get rid of those shin splints for good. We have 3 instructors in Singapore. Here is the link to contact them: http://www.chirunning.com/learn-it/find-an-instructor/

Dear Danny,

I have had shin splints since early April, ran the London marathon with them.  While they only hurt a little when resting, they are still painful to run.  Would like to try Chi running but presumably I have to wait till the shin splints heal which could be more than a year?
I have always ran on my forefoot/mid foot using Newton gravities.  I think what did for me was Newtons making their shoes narrower this year.  I bought a pair of the 2013 version in March and my problems seemed to start then.
How far healed do I have to be before I can give Ch running a go?

Regards

Robert

Jeff Carnivale Aug 6th, 2013 01:44pm

Robert,

We always suggest when you are suffering the acute phase of an injury to stay off of it. Here’s the thing though, so many of the concepts and techniques of ChiRunning can be practiced outside your actual running. Get a head start by reading the book and getting your posture correct, feel lighter in your walking stride, then when you get the go-ahead to run you will already have some of this body-sensing and new muscle memory working for you.

Danny,

I have been suffering from chronic shin splints for over two years now. I was doing around twenty to thirty miles a week before that. Since then its been the same story, take time off, feel better, run a few weeks, then the splints come right back. That’s been the same routine for two years now. I’ve tried everything from barefoot running to orthotics and physical therapy, and its always the same outcome. I’ve got your book and I’m slowly reading through it to really absorb it. I guess what I want to know is, are there ever times when your technique, when done correctly, actually hasn’t been able to over come shin splints?

Am in Uganda, where can i get Chi Running DVD?

Hi Danny,
I’ve taken the Chi Running workshop 6 times, including the advanced workshop, so I consider myself decent at the Chi Running form.  My problem is I get shin splints on occasion, but only when I run steep hills.  I’m a trail runner and when I get into serious elevations, some of the downhills get unrunnable.  That’s when I get shin splints.  I read your post on how to tackle hills, and I’ve shifted my form accordingly for the steep hills.  It’s gotten a lot better, but I did a 10K trail race over the weekend that got into some pretty serious elevation and I have a touch of pain in the shins.  Any ideas?

You should really look into a golf ball muscle roller it really helped to reduced the pain and swelling that i could never get rid of in my legs

I have got very bad shin splints. Can u please explain the right technique for running plZ .

Dear Danny,
I am still trying to figure out how Chi Running exactly works.  Is it true that you would take a forward lean by falling forward with ankles and toes?  Is it true that you lift your legs slightly while leaning forward for a certain period of time.  Do you have any instructors in the Washington DC Metropolitan area?

Thanks,
Sam

I am 50 yrs old, I have been a runner for 30 yrs. I just want to know, why myy calves tightening up on me at the begging of my run?  I have had an injury 8 weeks ago(a bruised done on the inner part of my left knee0 I have put on 20 pounds over the past 6 months cause not running on a regular basis. I am wondering if the weight gain could be putting too much stress on my calves?  I have, over the yrs taken time off from my running and I always gain 20 pounds, but as soon as I get back into my running, I lose the weight.  I am a female runner, I run anywhere from % miles a day.  my style of running is very similar to your chi running> lean forward and keeps my arms down and I drag my feet the first 3 miles then I pick up the pace the last 3 miles. pls help. I am so frustrated

great article everything you said sounds like exactly what I am doing wrong above most I feel myself not running right while I am running I feel the amount of weight I am putting on my lower legs and feet and I feel me pushing off with my feet. Is there hope for me and my longing desire to run? I have taken a break and am so sad that I am not able to run with my gym buddy.

Can shin splints can occur only in one leg? I am feeling pain in only left leg.

Regards
Avinash

Thanks so much for this post! I have been dealing with a pretty bad case of shin splints for a while now, and there is some great advice here. Your blog has helped me out so much, keep up the great work here!

Kristen Quinn Jul 26th, 2015 08:49am

Hello!  First of all, I LOVE chi-running.. have it down and doing beautifully with my cadence as well.. applying these principles.  However, the reason I started using this form/style of running is because I have an ongoing shin splint, only in my left leg. Not had an issue in my right at all.  This is really the only running injury I have sustained.  I am naturally a mid-foot striker and I run in zero.. minimal drop shoes ie..Newton’s, Altra’s.. anyways, I also have this ongoing fluid imbalance in my left ear.  I am with an ENT trying to correctly diagnose this issue, but estimate it is due to severe allergies, which my allergist is treating.  My question is, can someone with an ear issue/imbalance affect running gait?  I am wondering if I am over-compensating due to my left ear being inflamed and mild vertigo, hence only shin splint in my left.  I am a long distance runner, so this is frustrating.  My goal sending this message is to get an idea to present to my ENT for my follow up appt. per some testing to share with him, that I really think this is directly related.  Not found a lot via google and hoping you can share being the experts and all.  If I can present to him it affects my athletic ability, perhaps this will help treat the issue and my running more injury free.  Chi running has helped so much minimize the issue along with compression sleeve and KT taping.  Thanks so much!

Hi
I started running after more than a decade of wasting away, its been two happy weeks of progress but my shin is paining, and I’ve been fit before (40km done & dusted) but never had a break especially not one like this and this is my first “injury” so I’m not sure as to how to treat it, as I broke my ankle (stairs-fall,torn ligaments)and still walked to work (shaking)..my pain threshhold is very high..do I need to take a shin splint seriously or can I work-it-off ?

Hey what’s good,
I’ve had these shin pains on the inside of my shins or tibias of both of my legs. Sometimes the pain gets worse and I feel the nerves in my knees get weak. I know when I run I favor my toes a lot. Usually if I eat unhealthy it my shins/calfs(calves?) swell, too. Any suggestions or comments?

Joslin Pinto Oct 29th, 2015 09:09am

What to know if anybody can teach chi running in India.

Boone Jones Dec 3rd, 2015 12:55am

I just wanted to share a story with others here that are facing shin splints. Please, please, PLEASE, rest your legs and go back to a full recovery. I am only a 21 year old male that acted stupidly in high school and am now suffering from something that grew from ignoring my shin splints. To many athletes or people that love running, shin splints are not a big deal. They shouldn’t be. After you get them and identify what has been causing them, you can simply take the time to heal them and start whatever you were doing again. I’m pretty sure that there is a rare amount of people this dumb to do what I did (maybe I’m the only one in the world), but I can tell you that shin splints can become something awful if you choose to ignore them.

In high school, I played soccer/futbol and football (American) - I came from a family with a very humble background. We didn’t have a lot of money but we made our way through the world. I noticed one day after a Spring Training day for football that my shins were starting to hurt. I immediately thought that something must have happened in practice. I assumed that a helmet collidled between them or that I hit someone’s legs pretty hard while my adrenaline was pumping. I ignored it. That was the 1st day in about 1000 - when I ignored something that would change my life.

The first thing that happened when I told my coach was - I got a response to toughen up and keep playing. He told me that they’d go away, so I just thought that it was slight pain that I was supposed to ignore. About two months passed with this dull pain in my legs. After, we were running hills and I started to realize that the pain was a lot worse than the days before. Every time I lifted my heels up, my legs felt like there was a slowly burning fire in my legs. I told my coach, and he said that it would go away.

About.. 5 or 6 months passed (I’m guessing). By this time, I had definitely realized that something was very wrong with my legs. My coach finally referred me to a trainer (our school was a small 1A, so we didn’t have much support for trainers and such) and I explained to her how badly it was hurting. She took a look at my legs and felt the shins a bit, and then said it was no big deal. She started to wrap my legs in some kind of “X” style and told me that it would relieve the pressures against my bones. About 3 or 4 months passed, with this same taping every time before practice and games.

My soccer/futbol coach gave me the same advice, pretty much. He told me that athletes get shin splints all the time, but that you just have to get through it. He recommended that I don’t run up/down hills as much, that I exercise my shins by lifting my feet upwards and flexing, and that I ice them when I get home. I listened to this information and continued to play. I could obviously notice that my shins were damaged somehow because every time a soccer ball hit my shinguards, it felt like a knife being stuck into my bones.

3 or 4 months pass. I of course know by now that something is wrong. However, I didn’t tell my parents because I was a naive kid that didn’t want to ask to go to the doctor. We were already not doing that well with money as it was, and I didn’t know that it was very common for athletes to simply get checked up all the time (even if it was a small injury). Due to how my coaches taught us, I was always under the impression that the best thing to do is to keep driving on through the pain unless you had obviously broken a bone or pulled a hamstring. So, more months pass. Football season begins again.

The pain is pretty much unbearable at this ponit. It hurts to even walk in the hallways at school. However, my little kid brain thought that this was just a test. This was just a test of guts and manlihood. At this point, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that although my coaches and trainer definitely knew that I had shin splints, none of them tried to identify the source. I didn’t either.. I kept complaining to my trainer (she was the only one that wouldn’t yell back at me for talking about a non-life threatening injury), so she tried something new with putting my shins in ice buckets for a while - before taping the X, that is. This actually made me feel a lot better for the first 30 minutes of practice. Many months pass.

Football is over. I have just gotten a big packet in my mailbox. I open it - it’s an offer of admission to my dream school, West Point/U.S. Military Academy. I had been resting in the months prior to it - why? West Point has a medical process where you need to go to doctors and check things off. For the general doctor option, I chose a family friend - a podiatrist. Since this exam would be free (West Point pays for it), I decided that I could see what was wrong with my legs. Lo’ and behold, my podiatrist shows me that I have the flattest feet in the world. Like, literally a straight line - 180 degrees. About 2 years past Day 1 of Shin Splints, and I have finally

Boone Jones Dec 3rd, 2015 12:57am

found the reason behind them. He’s a great family friend and gets me my super strong orthotics for free..

West Point time! Believe it or not, I have actually been getting football scholarships to Division 3 schools. I wasn’t great in soccer, so I got absolutely 0 there. I wasn’t D-1 quality, but with that amount of pain I was going through - I’m pretty “proud” of that “accomplishment” now. West Point’s basic training begins. I don’t feel pain in my legs, oh my sweet baby Jesus. Not even in the 20 mile ruck marches, no nothing.

That initial part of West Point is done. Woo! Freshman year starts. This is when things turned for the worst. Mid first semester, I had to start taking a class where we had to pretty much pass a not-that-hard obstacle course. The first weeks of the class were not a big deal. There were things I couldn’t do, like handstands because I’m as flexible as a steel bar. Then, we got into the parts where we had to climb the rope. They taught us the techniques and we started executing. Suddenly… When my shins were kind of rubbing against the rope, fire-burning sensation that I felt about 1.5 years ago. Ah, damn.

It only happened on the rope, so I thought I was safe. Running still didn’t hurt me at that point. However, it was a real pain to pass that class because of a mere rope that didn’t even take long to get up. That was the first sign. Boxing class next semester. Not a hard class, but just super fun with classmates. Every time I try to throw a big one (body twist, let the power drive up from the legs to the hips), big knife sensation in my legs. or a poisonous blowdart that someone is shooting at me. Whatever I want to call it.

My physical scores are suffering. My mind isn’t right. My grades are starting to go down now because I’m getting very depressed at the fact that I’ll get kicked out for not being able to do any physical stuff. Freshman year ends. I’m happy, and then go to our little summer military training. Ruck marches - burning sensation and knife pains. I don’t tell anyone. Even though I’m not in high school anymore, I’m still an idiot. My biggest fear at this point, which is still driving me crazy, is that I’m going to be booted out the door from my dream college and profession because of some mere pains in my legs. It’s a total b**ch to get through. I somehow got through summer training.

Junior year. I’m a depressed kid. I guess I’m not strong and steel-minded as other kids at the school who were probably also hurting but driving on.. I mean, there were stories about guys with dislocated shoulders still doing push-ups and pull-ups. I didn’t want to be a b**tch! Hooah! Right?

Grades plummet. Military grade plummets. Physical scores plummet. I’ve dropped below a 2.0 now. I spend most of my days hiding in the gym with an ice pack away from my friends. I can’t focus. The nightmare is like plaguing my mind every day. Well, my body fixed that problem for me. End of junior year, while taking a survival swimming class, we get to a point in the class where we simply have to jump up from the bottom of the pool. I’m not a bad swimmer. Jumping from the bottom of the pool is easy as cake and is like the favorite part for most young kids. I take a deep squat, get ready to jump up, and start the motion - “crackle, crackle”. That’s the only way I can explain what that feeling was like.

I failed the class. I’ve lost hope, so I go to a doctor outside of the academy and get a scan on my legs. About 3-4 years of stupidity have amounted to a picture where my bones look like jigsaw puzzle pieces. Hairline fractures was probably Day 1. At the end of this journey, my bones were literally breaking apart like the ice when it starts to get warm outside again. The doctor didn’t even know what to call it. I don’t think there’s a human as stupid as me on Earth, realistically. Any normal person would have just gotten it checked out. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. It wasn’t my coaches’ fault. It wasn’t my trainers’ fault. From Day 1, it was mine. I thought it was some kind of test of strength. I thought I was being a tough guy by ignoring the pain and going on.

I’m now no longer at the Academy. I would’ve probably been kicked out anyways for failing everything physically. Booted out from my dream school, unable to pursue a football dream, and now not even able to do my favorite running. This condition is permanent. The doctors were surprised that my muscles weren’t pulled off the bone like many people with severe shin splints. Why did I share this long story?

Boone Jones Dec 3rd, 2015 12:58am

To show you what kind of a nightmare this thing is. To show you what kind of a nightmare ANY injury becomes. I say this because while it’s almost 2016 now, I actually read this same article years ago as a mere high school junior. I ignored it. When you Google shin splints, this article comes up high on the list. Kids read it. Adults read it. Everyone reads it.

Don’t ignore the pain. Don’t read it and go “Oh, well that’s not too bad - It’s common. Let’s keep on!” When your friends (if you’re an athlete) are hurting beside you in practice or the game, tell them to man up and go talk to a professional about the injury. No, it doesn’t mean that you should be a total wuss at every injury, but you should still at least get it checked out while at home. I’m not going to release my name. I’m just an anonymous kid (Boone Jones is obviously a fake name) that wants to share that shin splints can be bad because A LOT of people cast the topic aside like it’s nothing. After talking to a lot of college athletes, it seems like there are a bunch of people who also do the same thing I did - except that they’re stopped by professional and well-trained trainers now when it gets a bit bad. There are those out there that may think like me, and I wanted to share this story because of it. No matter what injury or how small, check it out. You have years of life ahead of you. It won’t hurt to do something to prevent it. REST. REST. REST. Be well, all of you. Good luck!

Eliza Cranston Dec 16th, 2015 12:19pm

Thank you for the information on shin splints! My daughter plays a lot of sports and is on the cross country team, and I think that the pain she’s feeling in her legs might be from shin splints. I’ll have her take a rest more often and look into some physical therapy. Can a therapist help her to change her running style to prevent injury?

Mahipal hooda Jan 28th, 2016 10:21am

is chi running program/instructor is there in INDIA??

I started doing track around last month, and gradually my shin splint gets worst and worst every week. First it was just the left leg then both of my legs and now my whole left leg hurts but not the right leg. I do high jump and pole -volt and jump off my left leg, which puts pressure on my legs. Is it severe? Please tell me.

FORMInsoles.com Apr 27th, 2016 06:20am

Thanks for providing all this information on shin splints because it was incredibly useful and detailed, explaining all probable causes and as well as the consequences This was a very useful blog post.

Can you tell me how to escape from shin pain forever

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ChiRunning began to enrich my life on July 3, 2010 when I read the first 100 pages of the book and went for a run, and just focusing on ankle lift made a difference! My running life continues to transform and create joy! I smile when I run and love every minute. I am thrilled and grateful to be part of this ChiRunning community. Thank you for the opportunity to pursue becoming an Instructor.

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