Shin splints plague many runners and it has been estimated that this condition accounts for almost 17% of all running related injuries. The most common symptoms of shin splints include pain along the inner side of your lower leg (i.e. tibia) and this is due to inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue in that region.
However, just because you have pain in your shin doesn’t automatically mean that you have shin splints and it can be a sign of other more serious conditions like compartment syndrome and stress fracture. If your shin pain gets worse in the morning and when trying to lift the foot up (ankle dorsiflexion), then that is a good sign that you might actually have shin splints.
The most common cause of shin splits is repetitive, prolonged motion like with running. During foot contact, shin muscles have to control forces that are 2-3 times runner’s body weight. It is easy to see how these muscles can get overworked if not strong enough to sustain loads that occur during running. Besides strength, there are other factors that have been shown to increase risk of shin splints:
As we can see from the list, there are certain risk factors that can and can’t be changed. Of the factors that can be changed, focus should be on the factors that will give you the biggest benefit in the shortest time possible: running form re-training and strength training.
Injuries occur when there is a mismatch between the loads that occur during training and the body’s capacity to absorb these loads. Adopting a more beneficial running form will decrease impact forces that occur during each foot strike, which will decrease demand on your tendons/muscles and hence reduce injury risk. In addition to this, reducing body weight will help with this as well.
When talking about the beneficial running form, I am referring more to preventing excessive foot pronation which has been shown to increase loads placed on dorsiflexors. In addition to this, avoiding heel strike will reduce ground reaction forces, thereby reducing strain on the above mentioned muscles as well.
And lastly, performing progressive strength training will have a positive impact on running form by correcting muscle imbalances as well as make bones, tendons and muscles stronger (i.e. increased tissue capacity). Having stronger body has many benefits, but specifically to running, it will help your body deal with running stresses better.
Your body will not perceive running as stressful as before strength training and this is important to remember if you are looking to stay injury free and perform at your best.
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