What You Need to Know About Shin Splints
Many runners, at some point in their running career, have a case of sore shins, varying in degree from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. According to a study by the NIH, up to 20% of all runners experience “shin splints,” medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).
Although it is one of the most common running injuries, it is relatively easy to fix and prevent. So, if you’re concerned about the health of your shins, read on and find out how you can avoid 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.
How are shin splints caused?
The two main causes of shin splints are: too much impact to the lower legs and overuse of the lower legs while running. Impact is created by over-striding and heel striking, while overuse happens when you “toe off” to propel yourself forward. Neither of which you’ll do when practicing ChiRunning.
Other causes are:
- Tight calves
- Running predominantly on your toes
- Running in stiff or worn-out shoes
- Running on hard surfaces
- Rapid increases in speed or distance
Let’s review the two main issues in more detail.
Excessive impact to the lower legs
If you overstride, the shock of your heels hitting the ground creates an abrupt pull on the muscles in your shins which can irritate the fascia, creating inflammation, or in worst cases, tears in the connective tissue. When the fascia becomes irritated or inflamed you’ll feel discomfort in your shins that could worsen over time if no correction is made.
Heel strike happens when you reach forward with your legs as you stride…commonly called over-striding. ChiRunning offers a way to eliminate heel strike by training you to land on your midfoot, closer in to your body, rather than reaching with your legs.
Causes of too much impact to the lower legs:
- Running in worn-out running shoes
- Heavy heel striking/dorsiflexing
- Extended downhill running
- Running on a treadmill
- Dorsiflexing your ankles as you land
Overuse of the lower legs
This is caused by landing on, or pushing off with, the toes—which in turn causes the calf and shin muscles to overwork. Pushing off with your toes creates too big of a job for this small group of muscles to handle. They get overworked and eventually begin to “complain” in the form of soreness, inflammation, and in some cases they become separated from the bone (the most painful version).
Here’s how you might be overusing your lower legs:
- Adding on too much speed or distance too soon
- Doing too much uphill running without a flat warm-up
- Running on trails, snow, and canted or uneven surfaces
- Running too hard on previous calf-pull or achilles injuries
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 many runners push off with their toes, which increases the stress to their legs, especially the shins. Most 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 the larger muscles in your upper legs, your lower leg muscles are relatively small and can be easily over-worked. So, the best solution to the overuse of the lower leg muscles is to use them as little as possible.
Getting you to relax your lower legs while you run is our goal. By running with a gentle forward fall, there is little need to be pushing yourself with your legs. ChiRunning been showing runners how to do this for the past twenty years, with incredible results.