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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine (no longer in print).

February 2001

diagram of shin splints

Shin Splints

By Rick Allen, DC

"Better health leads to better dancing."

Shin splints is a term used to describe pain in the lower leg that often results from participation in various athletic activities, including running and dancing. There are two types of shin splints: anterior and posterior (see illustration).

Shin splints are caused by very small tears in the leg muscles at their points of attachment to the shin. The first sign is a pulling or vague aching sensation after hard running or dancing. If ignored and allowed to continue, this aching may become more intense and could occur even during walking. Tender areas can usually be felt as one or more small bumps along either side of the shin bone.


Anterior shin splints are due to insufficient shock absorption, muscular imbalances that accompanies toe running, or excessive pronation of the foot. Briefly, let's examine each of these three causes.

Insufficient shock absorption can cause anterior shin splints. Running, dancing or other athletic activity on hard surfaces such as concrete increases this stress. Softer surfaces, such as grass, dirt trails, cinder tracks and wood floors mounted on springs, are capable of absorbing more shock and therefore transfer less to the shins. Old shoes may need to be replaced because shoe-cushioning materials tend to compress and lose resiliency after an extended period of wear. Shock-absorbing insoles are useful to decrease shock to the legs.

Toe running occurs when the athlete lands only on the balls of the feet, without the normal heel contact. This inefficient method places the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calf in continuous contractions. Any tightness in the posterior leg muscles places unnecessary strain on the anterior muscles and may contribute to shin splints.

Excessive pronation contributes to both anterior and posterior shin splints. Pronation is flattening of the arch. Pronation allows the foot to better absorb shock and adapt to uneven terrain. Though some pronation is necessary for normal joint function, too much produces an extremely unstable foot that may lead to an injury.


The best treatment is to change the causative situation. If you are running or dancing on a hard surface, change to a softer, more resilient one. If you have old shoes that have lost their cushioning effect, buy some new shoes. If you run on your toes, stretch your calf muscles and be aware of landing properly on your heals. If your anterior muscles of your leg are weak, strengthen them with simple toe-lift exercises. If your feet excessively pronate, get some custom-fitted orthotics to support the medial arch of your feet.

Ice massage and anti-inflammatory medication, preferably herbal, may be helpful for reducing acute inflammation. (See September 1999 Instep article for more details.)

If the problem persists, see a sports specialist who deals the foot and its function as it relates to the rest of the body. Chiropractors are well trained to give you a complete biomechanical examination -- including a study of your body structure, muscle strength, flexibility, and ranges of joint motion. X-rays and bone scans may be necessary to rule out stress fractures.


Conquering Athletic Injuries by American Running and Fitness Association, Paul M. Taylor and Diane K. Taylor, Editors.

Next article:Ever hear of a "dancer's fracture"? Learn about it next month!

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