Running up and down hills may not be the cause of "Shin splints"

December 27, 2023 3 min read

Running up and down hills may not be the cause of "Shin splints"

Running up and down hills may not be the cause of 'Shin splints'

Shin pain is common for runners, but it's unclear what parts of training most contribute. It turns out that pressure on shin bones is more severe when runners up their pace compared to when they train on hills

Shin pain is a common complaint among runners, often attributed to the repetitive impact of running on hard surfaces. However, recent research suggests that the cause of shin splints may not be as straightforward as previously believed. Contrary to popular belief, running up and down hills may not be the primary culprit behind this nagging condition.

What Are Shin Splints

Shin splints, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, refer to pain and inflammation along the shinbone (tibia). It is a common overuse injury that affects many athletes, particularly runners. The pain typically occurs on the inner edge of the shinbone and can range from mild discomfort to severe pain.

Traditional Beliefs: Blaming the Hills

For years, runners have been advised to avoid hilly terrains to prevent or alleviate shin splints. The prevailing theory was that the repetitive stress of running uphill and downhill caused excessive strain on the shinbone, leading to pain and inflammation. However, recent studies have challenged this long-held belief.

New Findings: Pace Matters

A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy examined the impact of different training variables on shinbone pressure. Surprisingly, the researchers found that the pressure on the shinbone was significantly higher when runners increased their pace, compared to when they ran on hilly terrains.

The study involved a group of experienced runners who performed various running exercises, including running on flat surfaces, uphill, downhill, and at different speeds. The researchers used pressure sensors to measure the forces exerted on the shinbone during each exercise.

The results showed that running at a faster pace resulted in a 20% increase in shinbone pressure compared to running on hills. This finding challenges the traditional belief that hill running is the primary cause of shin splints.

Understanding the Mechanism

So, why does increasing the pace lead to higher shinbone pressure? The researchers suggest that it may be due to the increased impact forces generated by the faster running speed. When runners pick up the pace, their feet strike the ground with greater force, resulting in higher stress on the shinbone.

It's important to note that this study focused on experienced runners, and the findings may not apply to beginners or individuals with specific biomechanical factors that contribute to shin splints. However, it does provide valuable insights into the potential causes of this common running injury.

Preventing Shin Splints

While the exact cause of shin splints may vary from person to person, there are several strategies that can help prevent this painful condition:

  1. Gradually increase training intensity and duration to allow your body to adapt.
  2. Wear proper footwear with adequate cushioning and support.
  3. Strengthen the muscles in your lower legs through targeted exercises.
  4. Consider cross-training activities to reduce the repetitive impact on your shins.
  5. Listen to your body and rest when you experience pain or discomfort.

Remember, shin splints are a complex condition, and the underlying causes can vary. If you're experiencing persistent shin pain, it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional or a sports medicine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

So, the next time you lace up your running shoes, don't be too quick to blame those hills for your shin splints. It may be your pace that's the real culprit.

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