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What Are Shin Splints?

Hello everyone,

Now that it is getting much nicer out, and the Chicago Marathon is on the radar of runners, many patients are coming in with and asking me about shin splints. From the name, shin splints, it sounds as if it should be a minor fracture or splinter in the bone somehow, but it is not.

Symptoms of shin splints are pain in the front if the lower leg, below the knee and toward the ankle. The pain may not present while running, but can commonly begin to increase after running and at rest, or with normal walking.

The pain of shin splints actually comes from muscle pain. When we walk and our heel hits the ground during out gait, in order for our foot not to slap down to the ground, we contract our tibialis anterior muscle on the front of the lower leg. When we run long distances, the repeated negative contraction of that muscle creates the build up of lactic acid and can lead to muscle strain. Pain in the muscle will then present even at rest or with normal walking, since we always need to lower the foot slowly as we walk.

The pain can become very strong and will not relieve until the repeated stress on the muscle is discontinued. Unfortunately for runners, this usually means that they must stop running for a while to allow the muscle to heal. For some runners, different running shoes can help the condition.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Dr. Mark


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