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Q&A: Painful Shin Splints

Dave Cruz

Q: I'm a runner, and I keep getting shin splints. I ice where it hurts, but the pain keeps coming back. What's up?

A: Don't focus on the pain of shin splints (on the front of your lower leg). Pain is not your biggest problem. Most people who have shin splints also have major restrictions in their ability to bend their ankles, knees, and hips while in a squatting position through a full range of motion. In other words, your shin pain is probably being caused by issues someplace else in your body.

Tightness throughout the calf and pronation of the foot (meaning your arch collapses) are two extremely common movement associations with a diagnosis of shin splints. Proper footwear and an orthotic can be extremely helpful. But if your running mechanics are poor and you do not have good mobility and core stability, then all the ibuprofen, ice, and muscle rubs in the world will not help cover up a biomechanical problem that is just going to get worse.

In my book, Athletic Body in Balance, I discuss a five-point movement screen that exposes many of the underlying causes of musculoskeletal complaints. Limited mobility and stability when performing a deep squat reveals many of the biomechanical restrictions that contribute to shin splints. Restoring the deep squatting pattern along with core exercises and an easy return to running will often clear up this problem.

If you do not have limitation with your mobility (always check this first), then you most likely have a stability problem. You need to control your motion better and focus on the mechanics of your activity and your core stability.

Gray Cook is a practicing physical therapist and creator of the Functional Movement Screen. Learn more at GrayCook.com.

Tags: Injury Prevention, Injury, Reduce Pain, Shin Pain