How Runners Get Shin Splint Treatment Wrong and 4 Ways to Get it Right

If you suffer from shin splints, the pain you're experiencing won't go away entirely if you focus solely on strengthening the shins. This used to be the go-to fix for treating this ailment. But, the updated approach to clearing up and preventing shin splints actually involves strengthening less obvious muscles.

The third article in our Build a Better Runner Series (read the first and second articles), this piece examines how you can build a stronger body to heal and prevent shin splints, and improve your mechanics.

The Shins

The "shins" are actually a group of muscles and bones that make up the front lower part of your leg. For runners, the most well known muscle in the shin area is called the tibialis anterior, which is responsible for dorsiflexing and inverting your foot. The primary bone runners are concerned with is the tibia, although the fibia can present problems as well.

More: Shin Splints 101: Treatment and Prevention Tips

The Role of the Shins and Common Reasons for Injury

The shin bone helps absorb and dissipate the impact generated with each foot fall during running.

Much like a beam on a bridge or in a skyscraper bows slightly when it's supporting a lot of weight, your tibia bends backwards slightly on impact with the ground, putting compressive forces on the medial side of the bone.

In healthy runners, the stress a bone experiences after a long, hard run is not a problem. The body responds to the stress on the bone by remodeling the tibia to become stronger and thicker. This is why shin problems are more common in less experienced runners: their bone has not yet adapted to the stresses of a high-impact activity like running.

More: 5 Ways to Cope With Common Running Injuries

How to Strengthen the Shins to Prevent Injuries

The outdated theory on preventing shin splints was that tightness or weakness of the shin muscles caused them to tug at their insertion point, irritating the periosteum, a thin, skin-like structure that envelopes the tibia itself. This is why a common treatment for shin splints is to complete shin-strengthening exercises with a theraband.

Unfortunately, because this outdated view is not the real cause of shin splints, strengthening the tibialis anterior will only help prevent shin splints slightly—mostly because it's such a small muscle and its primary function is dorsiflexion of the ankle, not shock absorption.

More: 4 Exercises to Strengthen Ankles

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