The Whole Story on Shin Splints

« Go Back
Runners and Walkers can Get Shin Splints

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.

What are shin splints?

In the mildest cases, shin splints are inflammation of the fascia (connective tissue) that surrounds, 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 often involve a rather slow healing process. The medical name for this condition is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), which is why we use the term shin splints.

The 2 Main Causes of Shin Splints

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.

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

To reduce the amount of shock to your legs, it is important to eliminate any heel strike while running and to reduce your heel strike while walking. Heel strike happens when you run with your trunk upright and reach forward with your legs as you stride … commonly called over-striding. ChiRunning 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 your legs to swing to the rear as soon as your feet hit the ground, eliminating any heel strike.

Learning ChiWalking can help you reduce your heel strike while walking and make sure your walking is in not exacerbating your shin splints.

2. 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 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).

  • 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 ChiRunning 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.
How to heal shin splints
  • Learn how to NOT use your shins. 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. 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 ChiRunning technique … to run without using your lower legs for anything but momentary support between strides.
  • During your healing process, switch to swimming or some other form of exercise that doesn’t require your lower legs.
  • Massage the shins for 10 minutes, three times a day to reduce inflammation.

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 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.

ChiRunning offers an alternative, and a permanent cure for shin splints, by teaching you how to run without using your lower legs as much – if at all. When you reduce or eliminate the use of your lower legs while running, you’ll make shin splints a thing of the past.

In ChiRunning, we’ll show you how to use a slight forward fall as your main source of propulsion. Then, you simply pick up your feet to keep up with your fall, leaving the bulk of the work to the pull of Gravity. This takes the workload off your lower legs, and 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 is a major cause of shin splints and is also the cause of most knee injuries. This solves the problem of too much impact to the legs.

By practicing the ChiRunning technique, 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.

Run pain & injury-free!

New to ChiRunning? Get the ChiRunning Book and DVD.


Get Chapter 1 of ChiRunning- FREE

"Running doesn't hurt your body. It's the way you run that causes pain" -Danny Dreyer, author and founder of ChiRunning

Download >>

Related Articles