This is the first post in a series of articles about common running injuries. These articles are purposely broad and intended for your education. Do not use this information as a substitute for doctor’s advice or a professional medical opinion. To see the entire series, click here.
In this article we will learn about shin splints – what they are, how you get them, and what to do about them. It’s one of those loosely defined injuries that can become chronic and really sneak up on you if you’re not careful. Let’s begin.
What is a Shin Splint?
Here is the definition of shin splints, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
“A very common complaint of almost every athlete at some point. Shin splints is a common term referring to pain to the lower leg. Most will agree that it involves the two muscles that run from the knee to the ankle and the side of the foot.
Generally caused by overuse, inflexibility, poor conditioning habits.”
That’s not a very specific definition, is it? Medically, shin splints are commonly called “tibial stress syndrome” or “media tibial stress syndrome” – but most of the time, they’re just really sore muscles. Occasionally, shin splints are misdiagnosed and are actually something more serious.
How Do You Get Them?
Shin splints are a classic overuse injury. Overuse? I mean – you worked out too hard. Maybe you weren’t ready for that 10 miler quite yet. Maybe you’ve previously run on the treadmill and decided that you’d be better served to start running on the sidewalks in your neighborhood. Maybe you’re wearing improper footwear. Or, maybe your running form is a little sub-par and you’re paying for it.
For some people, overpronating can cause shin splints. The muscles in your shins are not flexible enough to handle the extra stress caused by the extra stretching. This usually happens to people with arch issues, or flat feet.
Whatever the case, the cause is the same. Your shins weren’t ready for something you just threw at them.
However you got them, shin splints are extremely painful and have wide-ranging symptoms. They also need taken care of immediately, because neglecting them not only hurts like crazy, but also can easily lead to stress fractures.
Most people get sore after a run that pushes them. That is a good thing. Your muscles will get sore and then they will grow and become stronger. But when you don’t give yourself time to rest, you will start to get overuse injuries. That’s when you may start to see the hallmark of shin splints: the slightly inflamed, tender-to-the-touch shin. If you really get it bad, the pain will continue even after your run is over. You’ll end up with a constant, dull ache and an odd feeling of weakness.
Treating and Preventing
When treating shin splints, you’ll need pateince. Here is what you need to do.
- Get off your feet! You need to sit down and rest (I know, easier said than done).
- Ice your shins! This is important, especially when you first realize you may have shin splints. They developed right under your nose and you’re already late in treating them. Make sure you don’t ice for more than 20 minutes at a time. Frostbite isn’t what we’re shooting for.
- Take medicine – you’ll need to see a doctor for a prescription, but NSAID’s can really help reduce inflammation quickly and effectively. If you don’t want to see a doctor, try ibuprofen.
Preventing shin splints is another story.
- Learn proper running form. If you don’t do this already, this is the single best thing you can do. This is especially important if you’re an overpronator.
- Strengthen the muscles in your lower leg. If you have a severe case of shin splints, a doctor will prescribe you with physical therapy and they will take care of this for you.
- Work on improving your flexibility throughout your entire lower body.
- Don’t increase your training too quickly. Remember, this applies to anything new or different: surfaces, shoes, intensity and length of time you run. Not just the distance you run.
- Warm up before you run and stretch afterwards. This is basic and important to your general fitness. Don’t be one of the many people who neglect it.
Now that you’ve made it through this quick primer on shin splints, what are you waiting for? Take care of them so you can get healthy and back on the trail.