If you’re reading this because you’re currently nursing a lower leg injury, you’re not alone. Shin splints (otherwise known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome) is one of the most common lower leg injuries among runners.
According to research, shin splints account for anywhere between 6% to 16% of all running injuries.
We get expert insight from two industry professionals on everything you need to know about the relationship between your running form and shin splints.
Our first expert is Lillie Bleasdale, Founder & Head Coach of PASSA – the online training solution for female runners. Lillie is a Personal Trainer and Sports Conditioning Specialist as well as a London Marathon Championship qualified runner.
Our second expert is Marion Yau, a qualified podiatrist at Harley Street Medical Foot and Nail Clinic with a BSc in Podiatric Medicine, MSc in Podiatry, and MSc in Health Research.
What causes shin splints?
According to Lillie, “Shin splints are caused by an inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around the tibia.”
In general, runners who suddenly increase their training intensity will be most at risk of developing shin splints.
“They can also be caused by existing biomechanics,” explains Lillie. “It may be that your current footwear does not provide the level of support you need due to them being overworn or just the wrong style for you.”
Running form and shin splints
Running injuries like shin splints could be caused by your running form. Marion explains the different ways your technique could be impacting your lower legs.
Heavy Heel Striking
Running with a strong heel strike can cause increased dorsiflexion, which increases the activities of the foot and anterior leg muscles.
The stride of a heel striker is generally longer and the knee is extended. This can result in overuse of the muscles and stress on the bone, which can cause pain in the front of the leg.
Tight Calf Muscles
Tight calf muscles are one factor that contributes to forceful heel strikes. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, which go along the back of the lower leg, make up the calf muscles.
The range of motion of the ankle and heel is affected if these are tight, which in turn causes tightness in the Achilles tendon. Running requires more energy when these areas are excessively tight, which increases leg strain and pain.
Running with inward-rolling ankles, otherwise known as overpronation, can lead to shin splints because these movements twist the tibia. This overstrains the muscles along the tibia and causes inflammation in the muscles at the front of the lower leg.
Is it bad to run through shin splints?
Unlike other running injuries, the pain caused by shin splints is sometimes bearable enough to carry on running. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should. “As shin splints are an injury caused by a repetitive movement, it’s key that this movement is removed in order to help them heal,” explains Lillie.
“Most physios and medical professionals will recommend rest in order to combat the issue. During this time, you can use cross training methods such as cycling or swimming to stay on top of your training without the impact of running outside.”
Marion clarifies that it’s definitely best to pause your running if you have shin splints. “Running while suffering from shin splints is not advised since this would put more strain on the leg muscles, cause extra discomfort and damage, and could even result in a stress fracture of the shin bone.”
Shin splints in beginner runners
As we’ve established, one of the main causes of shin splints is increasing your mileage or training frequency too much. “Beginner runners tend to be more susceptible to shin splints because of the fact they are increasing volume from zero”, explains Lillie.
For beginners, it’s particularly important to work on running form to help prevent injuries like shin splints. “Strength training is key to help decrease the risk of injury, as well as helping you to improve your running form,” says Lillie.
Exercises to improve running form
Podiatrist Marion suggests 3 exercises that you can do to help improve your running form and reduce your risk of developing shin splints.
Gastrocnemius Stretch: Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your back calf muscle by pressing your feet against a wall and keeping your back leg straight. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times per day.
Soleus Stretch: Drop your hips down towards the ground, bending your back knee further, until you feel a stretch while pressing against a wall with one foot in front of the other and your knees bent. Keep the heel of your back leg down and your feet forward. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times per day.
Walking on Heels: Step forward while pulling your toes back. Make only heel-to-heel contact. Repeat 3 x 1 min twice a day.
Want more exercises? Check out our workouts.