The weather is getting warmer, the snow is melting, and the runners are hitting the streets. If you were one of the many participants in the Boston marathon, you have been training all winter. For most of us the marathon is an inspiration to lace up the New Balances and start pounding the pavement. For me, that means in about a month or so I will start seeing patients with shin splints. Shin splints (or anterior tibialis tendinitis in the medical world) is by far the most common injury in the running world. The good news for you runners out there is that they aren’t hard to fix which, will keep you racking up the miles for years to come.
A shin splint (or anterior tibialis tendinitis) is an inflammation of the muscle on the front of your tibia (shin bone). Sometimes it is just the muscle, sometimes it is the muscle pulling away from its bony attachment, and sometimes it is both. No matter what is going on, it’s treated the same way. Before we get to treatment, let’s talk about why runners get shin splints in the first place.
Shin splints are usually caused by tightness in your calf, weakness in your hip/core, and poor running form. Two of these things are easy to fix, and one takes more time and is more complicated. A tight calf causes shin splints because the front of your shin (anterior tib) has to pull against a tight calf to lift the foot to clear the leg when running. The harder it has to pull, the more stress that it puts on the muscle and can lead to the tiny tears. Here’s a great stretch you can do to stretch out your calf muscles and help prevent shin splints:
Weakness in your hip/core leads a greater impact on your foot when it hits the ground. It also leads to poor leg alignment when you are landing. Think of how many times your foot hits the ground when you are running. Those reps add up and any little mal-alignment can lead to a big problem over time. Here are my two favorite hip/core exercises for runners.
The last reason for getting shin splints is poor running form. Don’t be offended. There are a lot of recreational runners out there who are doing it wrong. I’ve worked with elite runners who are doing it wrong. The good thing about making these changes is that it will help to heal your shin splints, and make you a more efficient runner. Win-win. Two common form issues lead to shin splints in runners. One is overstriding and the other is vaulting.
- Overstriding is when your foot lands too far in front of your body when you are running. This can lead to shin splints because you have to slow your body down before you can speed it up again to propel yourself forward. What is the muscle that slows your body down? You guessed it, your anterior tib. Here's a video to help you understand what overstriding looks like and how you can fix it.
- Vaulting, or what some sources refer to as "up and down," is when your body raises in the air too much in between strides. Sir Newton told us a long time ago, what goes up must come down. The higher in the air you go the more impact you are going to have when you land. That impact pressure translates up the shin and can also lead to shin splints. For vaulting, I like to have my runners pick a point on the horizon. Try to keep your head level with that spot and that will help to prevent vaulting.
If you experience any running-induced injuries, don’t hesitate to contact us and we can get you started on the road to recovery. And in the future, we’d be happy to work with you before the injuries set in to work on injury preventative measures. Contact us at 401.667.0131, or visit our website.
- Ian at OrthoCore PT