Sore Shins


Q&A With Brian

Hi Brian, I'm trying to walk faster but when I do the next day I have terribly sore shins and can hardly walk. What am I doing wrong? Thanks Liz, Esperance (WA)

Hi Liz,

Thanks for your question, it’s a common condition and often associated when there has been a change in the method which you train.

Let’s quickly look at a simplified view of the mechanics of walking which we can split into 3 different phases.

  • Phase 1 is the ‘foot-strike’ when you land.
  • Phase 2 is the loading/energy transfer phase.
  • Phase 3 is a push off with the forefoot. 

Each foot strike delivers a force that travels up the leg, and this force must be absorbed by your muscles. The faster the foot strike (ie. walking faster, running) and the harder the surface, both increase the amount of force your muscles have to absorb.

Liz, I’d suggest that by walking faster the increased stress placed on your musculature during Phase 1 ‘foot-strike’ has caused the muscles to become over-loaded. The muscles of your calf region wrap around and connect to your tibia, commonly known as your shins. When these calf muscles experience extra load or over use, the attachments of them can become inflamed and you’ll experience pain. People often refer to the symptoms you are experiencing as ‘shin splints’, however this term describes a chronic condition, where the shin pain you are experiencing is neglected and small fractures in the tibia bone occur as a result. 

What you can do.

1. Reduce the force on foot-strike

This can be done by walking on softer surfaces. Grass, sand, dirt or any natural surface create far less load than concrete. If you can arrange it I would stop training on concrete completely when doing walks/runs. The force generated during foot-strike on cement is enormous and potentially very damaging.

Checking your shoes provide sufficient support. Many of the new shoes available are designed specifically to reduce the stress through the limbs of your leg. Having shoes correctly fitted and ensuring they are of good quality will help to lessen the load.

2. Stretch the two muscles of your calf

Performing and holding stretches will help to lengthen and strengthen your calf muscles. The rule is ‘the longer the muscle, the stronger the muscle’ so ensuring they are consistently stretched will reduce tension and prevent them from fatiguing quickly. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 60 seconds and do several times during the day.

3. Find an alternative movement

It may be necessary to give the fast walking a rest for a short time to allow the muscle attachments to recover. The last thing you will want is for this condition to become chronic and develop further. Bike riding, swimming, boxing are low impact movements which will give you the benefits of fast walking without the stress of the foot-strike. 

I hope this has been useful information for you Liz and I wish you well with your recovery and fitness goals.

Wishing you great health and much happiness,

Important: This article is general advice only. For further advice or information on this topic, please consult your health professional.
Category: Fitness

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