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Shin splints in runners

Shin splints in runners

Chances are that unless you have never met a runner, you have either had, or know someone that has had the dreaded “shin splints”.

Grace Coombs ·
~4 minute read

Chances are that unless you have never met a runner, you have either had, or know someone that has had the dreaded “shin splints”.

This is largely due to the fact that this is one of the most common running related injuries that we see as physiotherapists, followed closely by runners knee, bone stress injuries, ITB pain and plantar fasciitis.

What actually are shin splints? 

The proper term for shin splints is ‘medial tibial stress syndrome’ which basically means stress on the medial part of your tibia (the inside and main shin bone).

There are many theories out there as to why someone may develop shin pain, however it is generally thought that the stress to the bone arises from a constant 'tugging' and ‘pull’ from the calf muscles, leading to inflammation and pain at their attachment site to the bone.

When ignored, this strain and stress may become so much that the bone is at risk of stress fracture.

So why do the muscles become tight/pull/tug in the first place?

There are many reasons as to why a muscle/tendon/bone may develop pain or become irritated, but as physiotherapists we tend to focus on the below contributing factors when we think of shin splints.


Too often we find that the calf complex is not strong enough to withstand the repetitive running loads, leading to tightness and irritation. 

Top tip: all runners should be able to carry out 25 single leg calf raises, both with a straight knee (gastrocnemius muscle) and a bent knee (soleus muscle) on each leg. Give this a go and if your muscles are screaming at you, try adding this in to your strengthening routine to build up that strength.


When analyzing running technique, signs of poor foot and ankle strike position can place increased stress on the calf muscles and shin bones, leading to irritation.

Top tip: when running, your foot/ankle should be landing almost directly underneath your trunk. If you find that you are reaching your foot out too far in front, this may be leading to an overload of your lower leg muscles (as well as actually slowing you down). Try taking small, compact and fast steps in your next run and see how you feel. Ideally your foot should be hitting the ground between 160-180 times per minute.


Load means the amount of running and the intensity of that running per week/month/training cycle.

It is important to ensure that there are no big jumps in your running loads and that you are increasing (or decreasing) gradually.

A sudden overload can mean that the muscles/tendons/bones do not have enough time to adapt and may become injured. 

Top tip: aim for no more than a 10% increase in your running loads per week. For best advice, seek a coach who can write you a program. 

Our physiotherapist Grace is available for custom running programing - to enquire click here.

How do we treat shin splints?

At Four Physio we pride ourselves in spending the time to figure out why your pain has come on in the first place and provide you with a detailed plan to not only get you back to running pain free but to ensure that your injury never comes back. Our team of qualified sports physios and running physios in Christchurch, can get you back on track.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?!

Treatment for shin splints is all about finding out the CAUSE of the pain (see points above), and then working on correcting this. We are also highly skilled in massage, dry needling and taping to aid in your recovery and for initial pain management.

For further advice, book in to see us now and lets get you back on track (literally)!