Overcoming Shin Splints

Overcoming Shin Splints

Any athlete who has battled shin splints can tell you how frustrating and limiting they can be.    

Once they set in, it can take weeks or in some cases months before they are fully overcome.  With sports seasons lasting usually about 3 months, this can negatively impact your play for most or all of a season.   

Your best remedy for shin splints is to never get them in the first place!

Some athletes are more at risk for getting them due to a few underlying factors.  Once you identify the cause, finding a solution becomes much, much easier.

Here are the most likely causes of your shin splint problems:

Heel Strike Landings

To put it simply, this means that when you run at higher speeds it is the heel that strikes the ground first.   Proper sprint technique would have you landing on the front half of your foot first, with the heel touching briefly or not at all.

Sprint technique training can solve this over time with commitment and attention to detail.  Something as simple as learning to sprint with a taller posture could fix this, or it could be a much more deeply rooted issue that takes time to change.

Pronated Foot Landing

Much to our surprise when we started using video sprint analysis, a good number of kids land on the outside part of their foot first before it rolls flat on the ground.   This is referred to as pronation.  It puts extra stress on the muscle and connective tissue on the outside of the leg, an area that was not designed for this sort of stress.

Similar to above, sprint technique work along with potentially some flexibility and strength training (to correct underlying issues) are your best bets to fix this and avoid shin splints in the future.

Weak Hamstrings

What is the most common cause of a heel strike landing?  Weakness in your hamstrings, and really all the muscles on the back side of your body.

It is the hamstrings, however, that are most responsible for preventing an overstride that would lead to a heel strike landing.   One of their jobs when sprinting is to control the forward movement of the shin, decelerating it so it can be pulled right under the body on ground contact.   Without the ability to do this, your shin acts like a runaway freight train that is only stopped because gravity brings you back to the ground.

Strengthening your hamstrings is a simple fix that comes from a commitment to a sound workout program.   It also has other injury prevention effects that can lower your risk for ankle, knee and lower back problems as well.

No Rigidity In Your Ankle Joint

Slightly more complex is the ankle, and how well it absorbs the shock of ground contact when moving at full speed.  

A landing that is soft and squishy-like not only takes longer to move forward, it also transfers the high forces you absorb from contact with the ground and sends them up to the muscles above.

And guess that is right above the ankle?  

The primary function of the muscles of your lower legs are to remain rigid while absorbing high levels of force.   Exercises like jump roping do a great job of developing this skill in athletes who lack it, but there are many other ways to create stable, rigid ankles.

Too Much Volume Added In A Short Period

Picture an athlete who spends most of their summer working, or at the beach, or just generally not staying active no matter the reason.

They are the ones most likely to end up with shin splints after a few days of pre-season conditioning in August.

Your body can adapt to an incredible level of physical challenges, but it is best at doing so when the stresses are gradually increased over time.  Going from running 2 miles per week to 50 (not that I'm advocating distance running!) over a couple of weeks is almost certain to lead to shin splints, or worse.  

Coaches who see a high number of their players with shin splints should look to see how quickly their running workload increases as a potential cause.   You may want to increase conditioning more gradually, or incorporate non-running cardio movements like mountain climbers, stationary bikes and battle ropes as alternatives.


Finding the proper remedy to avoid shin splints in the future will come from developing strength where there are deficits, correcting any flawed sprint technique, and increasing conditioning workloads gradually over time.  

Get all those in place, and you are far, far less likely to see a problem in the future.


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