Shin splints are a common complaint among distance runners and sprinters. If you've ever run five miles on pavement with crappy sneakers on, or if you've just hit the treadmill too many days in a row, you've likely experienced this sharp, zapping pain in the front of your lower leg. The worst thing about shin splints is that they can take some time to go away, even with care and attention. Learning which stride works for you can help you prevent shin splints. The problem is that there is a lot of disagreement in the running community about which method of running is best.
There isn't one cause of shin splints, which most runners have experienced at one time or another. Depending on who you ask, running heel first, ball first or toes first can all contribute to the condition to varying degrees. Tiny tears to the muscles in the front and to the side of your shin bone are the primary culprit, and if you let the condition get worse through overtraining, it can take weeks for shin splints to go away.
Running on the Balls of the Feet
There are those who claim that excessive running or jumping on the balls of the feet is the primary cause of shin splints, but this could be due to the amount of running you're doing and not because of running on the balls of your feet. According to Rick Morris of RunningPlanet.com, running on the balls of your feet, which is considered the neutral position, allows your calf muscles to stretch and fire, keeps your momentum going and brings your weight down directly under your center of gravity, minimizing the risk of shin splints and other injuries.
Heel-first and Toe-first Running
Rick Morris claims that the main cause of shin splints is running on your heels and continuing through onto the ball and toes. Heel-first running causes your feet to pronate, or roll to the inside of your foot, which puts a lot of stress on your shin muscles. Switching to a toes-fist method, which is used by sprinters, will alleviate some of the pressure on your shins, but this only increases the pressure enormously on your calves.
Treatment and Prevention
Prevent shin splints by wearing good sneakers that have a lot of shock absorption, stretching your muscles before running, running on softer surfaces and running with a neutral stride. Even if you follow these instructions, running too often or for too long will eventually cause splints in many runners. To treat them, take the time off that you need, ice your shins and use a rolling pin to massage the damaged muscle and encourage blood flow and healing. A simple exercise for shin splint pain relief is a towel stretch. Sit with your leg straight out in front of you, loop a towel around the ball of your foot and pull the towel ends with your hands, keeping your leg straight and holding for 30 seconds. Repeat the exercise three times for temporary pain relief.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.