Ask the C.Ped – What are Shin Splints and What Causes Them?

Helen Russell

Helen Russell is the owner of Metro Run and Walk with her husband Mark. She is a certified pedorthist and has completed several marathons!

What are Shin Splints and What Causes Them?

With many people returning to running after a winter break, I thought a discussion about “shin splints” would be appropriate.

Shin splints are the most common cause of exercise-induced leg pain.  This condition can affect both athletes and non-athletic people who are on their feet all day.

Causes of shin splints include:


Mechanical problems with the feet such as “overpronation”

Tight calve muscles

A novice runner training too quickly in terms of distance or frequency

Training on hard surfaces such as concrete

Improper shoes with inadequate shock absorption

Excessive rotation of the hip

Most people associate any lower leg pain with shin splints, however, they are a very specific condition.  Shin splints are an inflammatory condition affecting the deep tissues of the lower leg and may involve muscles and tendons.  The inflammatory reaction occurs at the point where the deep tissues insert into the inside or front part of the leg bone (tibia).  Pain and tenderness is usually present 3 – 16 centimeters above the foot.

If you have a medial shin splint, you’ll feel pain on the inside of the tibia (shinbone). People with anterior shin splints typically have discomfort on the outside front of the shin. If your pain originates at the knee or is in the back of the leg at the calf muscle, it’s probably not shin splints.  There are other conditions that mimic shin splints, so it’s critical to get a medical evaluation if the pain is persistent, severe, or interferes with your activities of daily living including your exercise.  It’s important to remember that shin splints affect muscles and tendons. If the pain is coming from your shinbone, you need to see a medical professional.  There are other conditions that mimick shin splints.

What Other Conditions Mimick Shin-Splints?

Tibial stress fractures:


Chronic compartment syndrome:

Tibialis posterior tendonitis:

Shin Pain associated with Speed or Racewalking:

TAT (Tibialis Anterior Tendon) Shoe Lacing Technique

Interestingly, in the April Triathlete magazine, Aaron Hersch writes about pain or numbness on the front of your shin when running.  “If you have pain or numbness on the front of your shin when you run, it might be due to how your shoes are laced.  A tightly laced shoe can pinch the top of the foot and the tendon (tibialis anterior tendon (TAT)) that connects the muscle on the front of your shin, which can prevent the muscle from functioning properly.”  Take a look at the alternate method of lacing your shoes that may help to alleviate this problem. 

Stay tuned for How To Treat Shin Splints!

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3 Responses to Ask the C.Ped – What are Shin Splints and What Causes Them?

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