Fixing the Gait

Shin splints slowing you down? Evaluate the gait!

About halfway through Katie’s club season, one of her team’s setters started spending time on the sidelines at practices and tournaments with bags of ice wrapped around both shins. You guessed it – painful bilateral shin splints.

No question, setters are among the hardest workers on a team. Always on the go, gunning for the pass, from one side of the court to another. The first time I saw Erin with her shins wrapped up, something clicked in my memory. It was my camera shutter.

I’d taken thousands of pictures of their team throughout the year, studying the game and evaluating technique and movement patterns. But in her case, it wasn’t until I saw the result of her stride that I recognized what I’d been staring at all season. See if you can guess what’s wrong with this picture:

That’s what you call “heel strike”, or as Starrett would say, “Gas-o brake-o” – slamming the gas to run forwards while simultaneously slamming on the brakes with every step as your heel hits the ground. The result? Tremendous stress on the lower legs and muscles/fascia of the shins (aka “anterior compartment”). The swelling and inflammation of the fascia and muscles causes the intense pain, but the pain is only the symptom.

While icing after every workout might dull the pain, it’s not getting to the root of the problem.

After showing the picture to Erin’s parents, and Erin’s taking ownership of improving her stride with the help of a local PT, she made great progress through the rest of the season. It took a few weeks for the acute inflammation to subside, and as she returned to playing I could see a marked difference in her stride, with much less heel strike.

Thanks to her diligence with therapy and some sweet compression socks that became an instant fashion statement, she passed the real test – finishing qualifier season and a four day AAU Junior Nationals tournament on concrete floors without missing a beat.

Starrett has an excellent video with some ankle/leg mobilizations for shin splints:

… but if you’re currently afflicted, make sure to get some rest so the inflammation can subside, embrace compression/release cycles with compression socks or ACE bandages to help speed healing, and take a close look at your stride to eliminate heel striking so you can put the fire out for good.

Oh, and especially if you’re working on your gait – no more flip flops!