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Shin splints and shoes

Sports Medicine

How shoes can assist in preventing shin splints

Shin pain, commonly referred to as “shin splints,” is an overuse injury that occurs in about twenty percent of runners. This pain can be annoying and sometimes debilitating. Anyone can be affected. Athletes in almost any sport can suffer from shin splints.

The pain from shin splints can be from inflammation of the lining around the shin bone or it can be from micro-fractures to the shin bone itself.

What causes this inflammation or micro-trauma?  The answer to that question is multi-factoral. Below are 4 common causes of shin pain and ways to prevent it in the future:

  1. Imbalance in lower extremity strength and/or muscle flexibility: Stretching the muscles of the lower extremity: hips, hamstrings, ITBand, and especially the calf muscles (gastroc is stretched with a straight knee, soleus in stretched with a bent knee) is important in correcting lower extremity muscle imbalances. Strengthening the muscles of the front part of the shin is helpful in correcting strength imbalances that may be contributing to shin pain.
  2. Over training or training errors: It is important to gradually increase training activity. This gradual increase should take into account distance, time, and frequency of workouts. Not every athlete will respond to training changes in the same way, making it necessary to customize workouts for different team members on some occasions.
  3. Anatomic abnormalities such as flat feet or high arches: The forces associated with running cause significant stress to the body. One of the body’s shock absorbers is the foot, and the way the foot contacts the ground. People with a “normal” foot have the greatest amount of potential to absorb shock. Athletes with a high arch have a decreased ability to absorb shock because the foot is more rigid. Athletes with flat feet have greater instability in the medial arch, creating stress on the surrounding tissues of the foot and lower leg.
  4. Shoe choice: Shin pain can be avoided by selecting the most appropriate shoe for the activity and/or your foot. While some sports have specialized shoes, all athletes should have a good pair of running shoes to do at least some of their training. This pair of shoe must be the right fit for the athlete’s foot and arch type in order to help prevent low leg injuries and irritation.

When appropriate, athletes who compete in spikes or cleats should still train in supportive running shoes since spikes and cleats generally have very little support and very little shock absorption. This recommendation would also apply to running/conditioning in running shoes instead of wrestling shoes.

When picking out a running shoe, match the shoe with the athlete’s anatomy. While one shoe may be superior for some athletes, it may actually cause injuries in other athletes. It is not always easy to determine the foot type and arch style. Some specialty running shoe stores will have staff qualified in determining foot type and appropriate shoe choices. A licensed athletic trainer is also proficient in determining arch/foot type and appropriate shoe types, and they can recommend good places to purchase shoes. Additionally, athletic trainers are also effective in helping to treat and manage any current shin pain and preventing future shin pain.

Wearing the appropriate type of shoe is not the “sole” way to prevent pesky shin pain, it is just another weapon in the arsenal against possible stress injuries.

Athletes with pes cavus have rigid feet that do not absorb ground reaction forces. These supinators walk on the outside of their feet. This “just right” foot type is actually the least common foot type. Athletes with pesplantus have feet that flatten out too much. Pronator’s ankles roll in with weight bearing.
Choose a shoe with extra shock absorption. This shoe should be more flexible when you twist it. The sole of this shoe may feel like a circus peanut. Choose a shoe that offers moderate shock absorption and moderate arch support. Choose a shoe that is more rigid and has denser material through the midfoot. The midfoot of the shoe is made of darker, denser material.
Shoe will have a curved sole. Shoe will have semi-curved sole. Shoe will have a straight sole.

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