The symptom of shin splints is pain with every step that becomes worse when walking quickly or running.

Anterior shin splints occur when the pain is located along the upper front part of the shin.

Posterior shin splints occur when the pain is located on the lower inside edge of the shin.

The tibialis anterior is the main muscle that lifts, or dorsiflexes, the foot. It connects to the front of the tibia or shin bone.

The posterior tibialis is the muscle that pulls the foot down and inward. It connects along the back and inside edge of the tibia.

Both muscles attach to the inside of the bones that form the foot’s medial arch and are involved in stabilizing the foot’s arch system.

What causes shin splints?

Optimally, the muscles that stabilize the foot’s arch system should fire prior to that foot’s ground contact in anticipation of the expected ground contact weight bearing and propulsion related forces. This muscle firing optimizes the efficiency of the arch system with the least degree of damaging stress.

Shin splints are usually caused by overuse, because of the following:

  • The tibialis muscles are doing too much too quickly
  • The tibialis muscles are firing insufficiently or too late
  • There is maladapted neuromuscular function

This results in an unstable arch system that easily collapses during weight bearing. As the arches collapse, there is a corresponding sudden increase in tension on the tibialis muscles. This sudden increased tension puts excessive stresses on the tibialis muscles that lead to damage where the muscles attach to the tibia.

Over time, the edges of the muscles begin to microtear and pull away from the bone leading to inflammation and pain.

Shin Splints
Single Leg Anatomy

For proper function, our feet require the Right Stimulus and the Right Movement

Right Stimulus consists of the subtle varied stimulus that the soles of our feet receive when we walk, especially when we walk barefoot on natural terrain. With each step, there are subtly different sensations.

These subtle differences in stimulus keep our brain on high alert so that our body’s protective reflexes function properly with optimal muscle function.

When our brain is uncertain about what will happen, it triggers protective reflex muscle activations that support our arches before our feet contact the ground to ensure that our feet and legs can safely manage the forces generated by the activity intensity of our bodies.

As activity-related stimulus intensifies, a progressively higher arch is created. That is why, when they are functioning properly, our arches and toes rise and fall dynamically, in response to the varying activity stimulus intensities. This uninhibited dynamic movement is Right Movement.

Right Stimulus and Right Movement prevent the imbalanced muscle function that contributes to shin splints.

Right Stimulus
Toe Raise Beach

Conventional footwear impairs optimal foot function in two ways:

First, most conventional footwear dampens Right Stimulus.

This is particularly true for shoes or insoles that support or cushion our feet. They spread the forces evenly across the soles of our feet, creating sensory input that’s muted and repetitive, step after step. Within a short period of time, our brain tunes out the stimulus and stops responding to it.

As a result, our brain doesn’t sufficiently activate the muscles that stabilize our arches and properly align our feet, legs, hips, and lower back, before our feet contact the ground. This “tuned-out” brain response is natural and happens all the time. For example, the same thing happens when we walk into a room and first smell coffee that we no longer notice after only a few minutes.

Second, most conventional footwear, especially footwear that’s tightly laced, has snug toe boxes or stiff midsoles or outsoles,  restricts the Right Movement dynamic raising of the arches and toes that is critical in the creation of a strong stable arch system and healthy linear propulsion with the toe off forces spread across the forefoot.

Impaired Right Stimulus and Right Movement increase the strain and damaging stresses on the tibialis muscles.

Conventional treatment methods for shin splints include:

  • Cushioning products
  • Taping or bracing
  • Supportive products such as orthotics
  • Ice
  • Therapy to heal the damage
Soft Cushy Insole
Shin Splints

While these methods may temporarily alleviate symptoms, they don’t address the poor neuromuscular function that is the cause of the problem. In fact, the more we artificially support or cushion our feet, the weaker and the more dependent we become on these types of products.

These “old school” support and cushioning treatment methods are not recommended in any other area of musculoskeletal medicine as a viable long-term treatment option.

In fact, modern treatment methods for poor neuromuscular function focus on increasing mobility, muscle strength, and proper alignment via Proper Technique exercise, which requires both Right Stimulus and Right Movement. Science has shown that simply challenging the body to “do its job” is the best way to restore and enhance function.

This principle is the foundation for virtually all of today’s sports training/rehabilitation programs.

Recommendations to address the poor neuromuscular function that causes shin splints and prevents them from reoccurring

  • Walk barefoot on natural terrain as much as possible. This provides the optimal Right Stimulus and allows for the Right Movement required for healthy neuromuscular function.
  • To attain Right Stimulus in your conventional footwear, use BioPods® Stimsoles® and, for best results, use them in loosely laced, soft, flexible footwear that allows your arches and toes to rise easily.
  • Consult with your healthcare practitioner to ask about employing soft tissue mobilization therapies to address the fibrotic scar tissue that may have formed, prior to using BioPods products.