Among runners, shin splints are a very common running injury. As a runner, it’s important to know how to prevent them and how to treat them. If you are new to running or have recently upped your training, you are at a higher risk of developing shin splints. Knowing how to treat them will serve you well as you increase your running distance and intensity. Obviously, prevention is the best option, but even the most seasoned runners can occasionally suffer from shin splints.
In this article, you’ll learn what shin splints are, how to prevent them, and how to treat them.
“Shin splints” is the common name for a variety of injuries to the muscle, tendons, and/or bones in your shin. The medical name for this condition is “Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome.” This injury is always an overuse injury created by using specific muscles too much or creating too much impact on the tibia (the shin bone). Pain from this injury is most often felt along the front inside edge of the tibia, but it could be further back as well. Running with shin splints is extremely painful.
The primary injuries that cause shin splints are:
- Stress fractures. Your tibia can start to get small stress fractures from the impact of running. When your foot strikes the ground too hard or at the wrong angle, your tibia can take the brunt of that impact and begin to fracture a little bit.
- Strained muscles. If you have recently increased your running (speed, distance, or intensity), you may have strained some of the muscles supporting your tibia that control the speed of your foot while you’re running.
Pain is most noticeable in the inner side of your tibia. However, it is possible for the pain to be more prominent on the backside of your tibia as well.
Some symptoms of shin splints include:
- Tenderness when touched
- Sharp pain in a distinct spot
- Dull or throbbing pain in a region of the shin
- Mild swelling
- Increased pain when exercising
Because shin splints can either be a problem with the bone or with the muscles and tendons surrounding it, the symptoms of shin splints can vary a little bit from person to person.
Shin splints typically occur in people who overuse the muscles and bones in their lower leg by repeatedly participating in a particular physical activity. So it’s no surprise that shin splints are a common running injury, especially for new runners or anyone who significantly increases their training.
For runners, shin splints are most often caused by:
- Suddenly increasing your running distance, speed, or intensity
- Running more frequently
- Suddenly adding a lot of hill or speed training to your routine
- Having problems with your arches (high arches or flat feet)
- Using the wrong shoes
- Poor running technique
Getting shin splints is an especially common running injury for anyone who quickly and intensely changes their running style. If you are just getting into running, or if you are increasing your training, here are a few steps you can take to minimize your risk of developing this injury.
- Ease into your training. It’s tempting to jump into a new physical fitness routine with both feet, but it’s much better to ease into it. Increase your training slowly, and incorporate more cross-training into your routine.
- Run on soft ground. Because stress fractures are most often caused by repetitive impact, running on soft ground like grass or rubber tracks can reduce the likelihood of stress fractures.
Stretch and strengthen. Your muscles need time to adjust to your new workout plans. Before and after each workout, stretch your legs to increase your flexibility and your muscular ability. While you are slowly increasing your running distance and intensity, include more cross-training workouts that focus on muscle strengthening.
- Use the right shoes. Running shoes come in a variety of styles that are designed to fit runners with certain form problems. If you have high arches or flat feet, get shoes that are specifically designed to help correct those issues. Also, if you run regularly, be sure to buy new shoes when your old running shoes wear out. Running in worn-out shoes increases your risk of developing this injury.
- Improve your running form. If your running form is out of whack, you stand a higher chance of developing shin splints. Fortunately, running form can be improved with training. Consider hiring a run coach who can provide personal training to improve your running form.
If you do get shin splints, it’s important to know how to treat them properly so that they heal as quickly as possible. Fortunately, most mild cases of shin splints can be treated without medical intervention. If you start developing shin splints, try these treatment strategies.
- Rest. This injury tends to occur from over-training, take a break. You can still do other exercises that use other muscle groups, but give your lower legs a rest.
- Ice. Ice your shins up to 3 times per day for 15-20 minutes at a time.
- Take Non-steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) as recommended. NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Asprin can help reduce pain and inflammation. Only use them according to the product recommendations.
- Get new running shoes. If you think that the problem could be your shoes, go to a reputable local running store and get fitted for the proper running shoes.
- Improve your running form. If you think the problem could be with your running form, consult a running coach to learn how to improve your running form.