Shin splints, a common running-related injury among runners and athletes (especially long distance and new runners), can be a source of discomfort and frustration. Understanding what shin splints are, how to avoid them, and what to do if you have them is crucial for maintaining a healthy running routine. Additionally, preventing running injuries, including shin splints, is essential for long-term athletic success. In this post, we will explore the nature of shin splints, how to avoid them, what to do if you have them, and strategies for preventing running injuries. From load management and proper footwear to rest and exercise techniques, we will cover a range of effective approaches to help you stay healthy and injury-free while running.
What are shin splints?
Shin splints, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, refer to pain and tenderness along the shin bone (tibia) at the front of your lower leg caused by repetitive stress on the shinbone and the inflammation of the muscles and connective tissues that attach to the bone. This condition commonly occurs in runners, dancers, basketball players and military recruits, especially when they intensify or change their training routines. The increased activity overworks the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue, leading to pain, tenderness, and mild swelling in the lower leg. Shin splints can be treated with rest, ice, and other self-care measures, and wearing proper footwear and modifying exercise routines can help prevent them from recurring.
Shin splints are sometimes confused or mistaken for stress fractures so it is sometimes necessary to have a bone scan to rule out a more serious injury. Running on a stress fracture can be dangerous and can rule a runner out for weeks, so if in doubt it might be better to be safe than sorry and see a physical therapist to be assessed.
What can cause shin splints?
Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are a type of overuse injury and are caused by repetitive stress on the shinbone and the connective tissues that attach muscles to the bone. They often occur after sudden changes in physical activity, such as increasing the frequency, duration, or intensity of exercise. Overuse, running on hard surfaces, having flat feet or abnormally rigid arches, exercising with improper or worn-out footwear, and a sudden increase in the amount or intensity of exercise are common risk factors that contribute to shin splints. Other causes include stress fractures, swollen muscles, and incorrect use or overuse of the muscles and tissues that attach to the shinbone. Running in general is a risk factor for shin splints due to the high impact nature of the exercise. The repetitive action especially over long distances training programs can lead to running-related injuries such as medial shin splints.
What to do if you have shin splints?
If you have shin splints, there are several steps you can take to alleviate the pain and promote healing. First, it's important to rest and avoid activities that cause pain, swelling, or discomfort, while still engaging in low-impact exercises such as swimming, bicycling, or water running to maintain physical activity. Applying an ice pack to the affected shin for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day for several days can help reduce pain and swelling. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's) like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen can also be used to alleviate pain however you should check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking these.
Additionally, using arch support insoles or orthotics for your shoes, wearing a compression bandage or sock to reduce swelling, and replacing worn-out trainers with supportive shoes can aid in the healing process. It's important to gradually resume usual activities only after the pain has subsided, and to consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists despite home treatment. Stretching or using a foam roller on the calf muscles can also help relieve some tension, as tightness in the muscles can affect the way force is absorbed in your leg which may lead to additional stress being placed on your shins.
Physical therapy can be a good option in terms of providing guidance when returning to running. There is a fine balance between exercising to strengthen the leg muscles and pushing it too far and causing lower leg pain so having a healthcare provider guide you through an exercise routine and progress you back to exercise.
How to avoid shin splints when running?
Preventing shin splints involves taking proactive steps to reduce stress on the lower legs and minimize the risk of injury. Here are some simple steps that you can take to prevent shin splints, including stretching your calves and hamstrings, avoiding sudden increases in physical activity, exercising on softer surfaces when possible, and ensuring proper footwear. Strengthening your foot and incorporating rest, ice, and compression can also play a crucial role in preventing shin splints. Additionally, focusing on running technique, such as relaxing your lower legs as much as possible and landing with a mid-foot strike on a bent leg under the knee, can help avoid shin splints.
To avoid shin splints while running, it's crucial to manage the load on your lower legs. This involves gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your runs to allow your muscles and bones to adapt to the stress. Overdoing running or other high-impact activities for too long at too high an intensity can overload the shins, increasing the risk of shin splints. Load management is arguable the most important aspect of treating and preventing overuse injuries and mis-management of it is the most common cause of shin splints.
Proper footwear is essential in preventing shin splints. Wearing shoes with good arch and heel support, as well as proper cushioning, can help reduce stress on the lower legs. Additionally, using insoles or orthotics for your shoes can help align and stabilize your ankle and foot, taking stress off of your lower leg.
Rest is crucial in preventing shin splints. It's important to avoid overdoing your running routine and to incorporate rest days into your training schedule. Additionally, stretching your legs before and after running, ensuring that your running technique isn't contributing to any injuries, and incorporating strength training into your routine to strengthen your muscles around the shinbone and hips can help prevent shin splints.
Exercise on softer surfaces, such as an indoor track or treadmill, to decrease the amount of force and pressure on your shins. Additionally, focusing on running technique, such as relaxing your lower legs as much as possible and landing with a mid-foot strike on a bent leg under the knee, can help avoid shin splints.
In conclusion, shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, can be effectively treated with rest, ice, and other self-care measures. Wearing proper footwear, modifying exercise routines, and gradually resuming activities after the pain has subsided are essential in preventing shin splints from recurring. Additionally, incorporating stretching exercises, avoiding sudden increases in physical activity, and exercising on softer surfaces can help prevent shin splints. Strengthening the foot, using shock-absorbing insoles, and considering arch supports can also play a crucial role in preventing the pain associated with shin splints. It's important to consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists despite home treatment, as they can provide guidance on the best course of action for your specific situation.