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Basics of Shin Splints

By Brad Walker
Flexibility Expert
Updated: June 22, 2008
If you've ever gone jogging or walking long distances, you likely suffered from shin splints at one time or another. Generally speaking, shin splints are pains that occur in the lower leg and are caused by soreness and stress on the bones. But do you know exactly what shin splints are and what causes them? Following is an explanation of the specifics of this problem.

Muscles and Tendons Involved with Shin Splints

The term shin splints is a medical condition often referred to as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, or MTSS. The condition occurs in the lower long, generally around the calf area, where a complex formation of muscles and tendons are located. The pain is the result of trauma and fatigue in the tendons of the lower leg because of the large amount of force on the tibia. This force causes the tendon to tear away from the bone, causing pain in the area. The main components involved with shin splints include the following:

Tibia and Fibula

The tibia is positioned on the inside of the lower leg and the fibula is on the outer part of the lower leg. They both make up the two major bones between the knee and the foot.


Many muscles are attached to the tibia and fibula. When the muscles are overworked, it causes the pain in the bones that we generally associate with shin splints.

What Causes Shin Splints?

Now that we've discussed the technical aspects of what causes shin splints, we can look at the outward causes of this pain. Basically, there are two categories of shin splints, and they are:
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Overload: Often called "training errors," this category generally involves sports or activities in which the person runs a lot or exerts extreme pressure on their lower legs. The pain isn't necessarily caused from the running, but rather the repeated impact force and direction changes during the activity. The tendons become tired and this makes them unable to absorb the shock.

Biochemical Inefficiencies: This is typically known as "flat feet," a term causes extra exertion in the lower leg after the heel hits the ground. As a result, the foot flattens upon impact and continues to roll inward, or "over-pronation." It then causes the tibia to twist and stretch the muscles in the lower leg.

Causes of the overload and/or biochemical conditions:

- Exercising on hard surfaces
- Beginning exercise when your body is not accustomed to it
- Exercising on uneven ground
- Increasing your exercise routine's intensity or duration
- Inadequate footwear
- Running uphill or downhill too much
- Poor exercise techniques
- Stiff muscles in the lower leg
- Running with a backward or forward lean
- Running with toes pointed outward
- Landing on the balls of your feet

As you can see, many of the causes of shin splints relate to inadequate training or exercise techniques. Many times, simply altering your routine can lessen your risk of overexerting your muscles and tendons and getting this pain.
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