Whether you are an athlete, avid runner, or just enjoy a jog around the neighborhood, if you have ever experienced painful shin splints, you know they can feel like the worst pain ever.
Shin splints, the catch-all term for lower leg pain that occurs below the knee, are the bane of many athletes, runners and even dancers. They often plague beginning runners who do not build their mileage gradually enough or seasoned runners who abruptly change their workout regimen, suddenly adding too much mileage or switching from running on flat surfaces to traversing hills.
The nature of shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), most often can be attributed to the concept of “too much, too soon”.
Symptoms of Shin Splints
- Pain and tenderness along the tibia
- Potential swelling of the lower legs
- In chronic cases, there may be lumps or bumps felt along the bones
- In severe cases, there may be red patches on the skin around painful areas
Initially, the pain will stop when exercise stops, but if the condition worsens, the pain can become constant. It is important to have the pain checked by a doctor because other conditions have similar symptoms.
Common Causes of Shin Splints
The exact mechanisms behind shin splints are not fully understood but are thought to involve a variety of different issues. The causes, however, are relatively clear. Shin splints happen from overuse with too much activity or an increase in training. Most often, the activity is high impact and repetitive exercise of your lower legs. This is why runners, dancers, and gymnasts often get shin splints. Common activities that cause shin splints are:
- Running, especially on hills
- Increasing your days of training
- Increasing the intensity of training, or going a longer distance
- Doing exercise that has frequent stops and starts, such as dancing or basketball
You are more at risk for shin splints if you:
- Have flat feet or a very rigid foot arches
- Work out on hard surfaces, such as running on a hard court
- Do not wear the proper shoes
- Wear worn out shoes
Treatment of Shin Splints
At Ventura Orthopedics, we recommend that when shin splints strike, you should stop running completely or decrease your training depending on the extent and duration of pain. Next, ice your shin to reduce inflammation.
- Rest your body. It needs time to heal.
- Ice your shin to ease pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days, or until the pain is gone.
- Use insoles or orthotics for your shoes. Shoe inserts — which can be custom-made or bought off the shelf — may help if your arches collapse or flatten when you stand up.
- Take anti-inflammatory painkillers, if you need them. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, will help with pain and swelling.
Can I Still Run With Shin Splints?
Technically, you CAN… but you probably shouldn’t. For many runners who try to continue running with shin splints, the best case scenario is that they prolong the injury as they’re not giving the injured tissue an opportunity to heal. The worst case scenario is that the injury develops from shin pain into a full-blown tibial stress fracture.
If you continue running, wrap your leg before you go out. Use either tape or an Ace bandage, starting just above the ankle and continuing to just below the knee. Keep wrapping your leg until the pain goes away.
- Consider cross-training for a while to let your shin heal. Swim, run in the pool or ride a bike.
- When you return to running, increase your mileage slowly, no more than 10 percent weekly.
- Make sure you wear the correct running shoes for your foot type specifically; overpronators should wear motion-control shoes. Severe overpronators may need orthotics.
- Avoid hills and excessively hard surfaces until shin pain goes away completely, then re-introduce them gradually to prevent a recurrence.
- If you are prone to developing shin splints, stretch your calves and Achilles regularly as a preventive measure.