Is your gait causing shin pain?
Gait related shin pain
Running injuries are common. In a given year, runners have a 70-80% likelihood of developing an injury that will prevent them from running pain free for at least a week. While there are many different types of injuries that can occur, some people may be more prone to a particular injury while seemingly resistant to others. There are a lot of different factors that can account for this including age, sex, training history, biomechanics (and more) however of these, running technique is one of the few factors that can be changed.
It needs to be mentioned that no particular running technique can guarantee that you will be injury free. Different, and sometimes worse injuries can develop when people attempt to change their running style. The aim of this article is understand the types of shin injuries that can develop from running, and the factors influencing them.
Shin injuries are commonly lumped under the umbrella term of ‘shin splints’ by some medical professionals. This rather obtuse term neglects the specific location, onset and severity of the injury – all factors required for correct diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
Antero-lateral shin pain
Pain on the outside part of the front of your shin is usually related to the Tibialis Anterior muscle. This long muscle is responsible for lifting your foot upwards at the ankle joint. The muscle can become overworked if subjected to more exercise than it is used to and tends to become sore after the run, with pain disappearing a few days later. This injury is frequently seen in those that are new to running, or returning after time off from the sport. People that tend to heel strike (i.e. land heel first) are far more likely to be affected by this injury, and athletes are also more at risk if running in incorrect footwear – particularly if the shoe is too stiff (resulting in foot slapping), or lacks adequate pronation support.
Heel striking occurs when the runner’s heel lands on the ground first – usually in front of their centre of mass – and the further in front, the more of a problem this poses. In this position the Tibialis Anterior muscle is working to have the toes lifted higher than the heel to prevent tripping. The forefoot then rapidly lowers putting further strain on the Tibialis Anterior as it is responsible for the controlled descent of the foot. Once the foot is flat on the ground, the Tibialis Anterior may be subject to further strain if the foot heavily and/or rapidly pronates (rolls inwards).
The Tibialis Anterior can be put under even greater levels of strain when running downhill as this tends to amplify the slapping movement of the heel-to-toe progression.
Key points you should know
- Your running technique can predict the type of injuries you get
- “Shin Splints” is a commonly used term but utterly innaccurate
- A running assessment can help identify faults leading to shin injuries
Postero-medial shin pain
Pain felt on the inside part of the shin along the edge of the tibia (shin bone) is often diagnosed as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), or more recently known as Medial Tibial Traction Perisostitis (MTTP). Irrespective of the nomenclature, the injury usually begins as a broad area of discomfort along the inside part of the shin. This usually starts as a mild discomfort at the start of the run, but resolves after a few minutes. The pain is usually a response to an increase in loading along the edge of the tibia causing swelling around the periosteum (outer lining of the bone) initially, which can progress to bone damage thereafter. The increased loading is usually from higher running volume or intensity (or both) than is usual. Conjecture exists as to whether damage is due to force generated at foot strike, associated muscle tension from the Posterior Tibialis muscle, or some combination of both.
Training load plays a large role in the development of this injury, however there are certain gait factors that may increase the likelihood of developing it. Over-pronating can play a part in increasing the tension in the Posterior Tibialis muscle, which in turn exerts a traction force on the tibia. Overstriding (landing too far in front of the centre of mass) increases the initial impact forces transferred through the lower limb and shin that can also damage the tibia. Additionally, running in shoes that offer insufficient cushioning (i.e. are worn out, or offer less support than the athlete is accustomed to), and under-pronating can increase shock that also affects the tibia and lower limb.
With both of the injury areas mentioned above, after a sufficient reduction in training (and in some cases complete rest) for a suitable period, the injury will recover and heal. There are two notable exceptions to this however – shin injuries where pain becomes worse with running need to be investigated immediately. Sharp localised pain (on the front or side of the tibia or fibula) can be the sign of a stress fracture and should never be run on as this will steeply increase the injury severity and healing time required. Management usually involves rest (the amount of which can be calculated somewhat more precisely with the aid of an MRI scan), a fracture boot (in some cases), and a considered return to exercise plan.
The other critical shin injury not to miss is compartment syndrome. This is a dangerous injury where pressure builds up in the muscle sheath persisting for hours after exercise and can lead to permanent damage to the muscle and nerves in the leg and foot. This often requires surgery. If you suspect you have a stress fracture or compartment syndrome this should be investigated immediately.
For the injuries mentioned earlier, specific changes in running gait, footwear, and training can help to reduce the severity and reoccurrence of these injuries and possibly lead to better performance as well. If you’ve been dealing with running related shin problems, contact the intraining Running Injury Clinic for an appointment.
If you are training more without realising the benefits of increased performance, it may be a simple modification to your running form that will result in the benefits you are looking to achieve. The intraining Running Injury Clinic conduct running form workshops on a regular basis.
If you are interested in improving your running form or reducing your risk of injury, sign up for the Running Form Workshop on 8 October or 3 December 2017.