Anterior shin splints are located on the front part of the shin bone and involve the tibialis anterior muscle. The tibialis anterior slows down and steadies the motion of the foot when it hits the ground while running and lifts the toes during the swing phase of a stride and later prepares the foot for a heel strike.
If the pain is especially intense when lifting your toes up while keeping heels on the ground – you are likely to suffer from anterior shin splints. Repeated trauma resulting from improper running stride or muscle weaknesses often result in anterior shin splints, medically know as anterior tibial stress syndrome (ATSS).
There are various causes for anterior shin splints. Runners with low arches who overpronate (foot pronation guide) are more likely to have anterior shin splints. Other causes include overtraining in activities like running or cycling. Frequent activity on hard surfaces, changing surfaces or running direction and wearing the wrong type of shoes can also make a person susceptible to development of anterior shin splints.
Anatomy and Biomechanics of Anterior Shin Splints
Along with over-striding and overactive calf muscles, which are both components of the biomechanical problems underlying the cause for shin splints. The tibialis anterior is very important during the running stride. The tibialis anterior tendon and muscle lengthen past their “normal” during over-striding. To compensate and create new room for movement, the muscle separates itself from the shin bone (tibia), which results in inflammation and pain.
The tibialis anterior muscle has to work very hard in keeping the feet dorsiflexed during every step and for that it needs to be a strong. The job of the muscle is to prevent your feet from slapping into the ground and producing excess stress to the lower legs. When running on hard surfaces not only are the impacts on the leg greater, but the muscle has to work harder to reduce the trauma. Because of this, softer running surfaces, good running bio-mechanics and proper shoe selection is extremely important.
During the first stages of the injury, the pain may be very similar to tendonitis in that it will start strong and then slowly decrease as the body “warms up”. Generally, the pain will return at the end of the athletic activity. If left untreated for a long time, the injury becomes more serious resulting in serious pain and can progress into stress fractures. Symptoms for anterior shin splints typically occur on the front edge of the tibia.
Running downhill adds more stress to the tibialis anterior muscle as it works in an eccentric way and has to produce a greater contraction. Typically the muscle is able to withstand a lot of pressure, but if you are suffering from shin splints, even a light touch can be painful. In some cases massage therapy for the muscle may be helpful, but if done incorrectly it can also cause more damage.
Anterior shin splints are difficult to get rid of without proper treatments and rest. To find out how to fully become injury free, refer to our guide for treating shin splints.
NOTE: Posterior shin splint injury is located lower in the inside part of the foot.