Most athletes who develop shins splints will describe an exercise history that includes sudden increases in intensity or duration of impact activities, often along with a lack of appropriate recovery between workouts.
There are a variety of factors that can lead to shin splints. The most common cause is repeated trauma to either the muscles or bones of the lower leg.
Muscle trauma (exertional compartment syndrome) is often related to overtraining or excessive running on hard surfaces. Repeated use makes the muscles swell and puts pressure on the fascia that covers the muscles in the lower leg leading to pressure and pain.
Bone trauma to the lower leg can result in stress fractures. Constant pounding the leg bones may cause microscopic cracks and fractures in the tibia and fibula (lower leg bones). Rest is needed to repair these cracks, but without adequate recover, these cracks continue to grow and become a fracture.
The result is acute pain and a long recovery.
Beginning runners are at increased risk of shin splints and stress fractures because they are not used to the high impact running has on the muscles and joints of the lower leg and foot. Running on hard surfaces (especially with worn, poorly cushioned footwear) increases stress on the muscles, joints and bones and is another cause of shin splints. Excessive pronation or other biomechanical problems can increase the risk of developing shin splints.
The Most Common Causes of Shin Splints
- Improper stretching
- Lack of warm-up
- Training too hard
- Increasing mileage too quickly
- Running or jumping on hard surfaces
- Muscle imbalance between the posterior and anterior leg
- Worn out shoes that do not have enough support
- Running on a tilted or slanted surface
- Other biomechanical issues