Too much running? This could help your shin splints

Good news for treadmill runners plagued by stubborn and painful shin splints: new research suggests that a bit of outdoor gait training might help.

A randomized controlled trial found that incorporating four weeks of outdoor gait training, along with home exercises commonly prescribed for shin splints, led to improved running biomechanics – even when runners returned to the treadmill. These improvements included reducing the time their feet were in contact with the ground or treadmill, a factor recently identified as a contributor to shin splints.

Based on these findings, researchers, including UVA Health sports medicine expert Dr. David J. Hryvniak, recommend that clinicians incorporate outdoor gait training into rehabilitation programs for patients with chronic shin splints.

“This is an important finding for clinicians, as it provides us with a practical tool to help these runners,” said Hryvniak, a running medicine specialist at UVA Health’s Runner’s Clinic. “Adding these gait-training cues into rehab programs can help patients improve running mechanics, which can address many common running injuries.”

Soothing Shin Splints

Shin splints affect approximately 40% of all runners, typically starting as tenderness in the lower leg that subsides after exercising. However, for regular runners, this pain can worsen and become persistent. In severe cases, shin splints can even lead to stress fractures.

Previous research has shown that short courses of outdoor gait training can significantly reduce shin splint pain for outdoor runners. However, it was unclear if these benefits would translate to the flat, regular surface of treadmill running. To address this, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, School of Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Plymouth State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a randomized trial to investigate the effects of outdoor gait training on treadmill users.

The study enrolled 17 treadmill runners aged 18 to 45 who ran at least three times a week and had experienced lower leg pain during or after running for at least a month. The participants were randomly divided into two groups: one group received four weeks of outdoor gait training along with commonly prescribed home strengthening exercises, while the other group only performed the home exercises.

During the gait training, participants received “vibrotactile feedback” – a slight vibration – when sensors in their shoes detected their feet were in contact with the ground for too long. This feedback helped them adjust their stride and gait, reducing a potential contributor to shin splints.

At the end of the study, both groups showed strength improvements in their legs. However, the gait training group also exhibited improved running technique, with “favorable adjustments in running gait mechanics” observed during both outdoor and treadmill runs.

These findings suggest that outdoor gait training could be a valuable new tool to help treadmill users exercise pain-free, according to the researchers.

“Shin splints are a very common running injury, especially among those new to the sport,” Hryvniak said. “These gait cues have been shown to be an effective tool that patients can use literally ‘on the run.'”

Source: Science Daily