Runners: Don’t Let Shin Splints Keep You from Doing What You Love. The pain of medial or interior tibial stress syndrome.

Shin splints are one of the more common, and painful problem runners experience. Runners who run long distances and run outdoors on hard pavement are most susceptible, although walkers who power walk or tackle lots of hills can develop painful shin splints too. Needless to say, shin splints can cause a great deal of discomfort and inconvenience.

What Causes Shin Splints?

Shin splints are also referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome. This uncomfortable condition involves inflammation of the tendons that run across the shinbone. Inflammation usually means pain, and sometimes swelling, and that’s what most people experience when they have shin splints.

In the early stages of shin splints, you might feel aching, typically along the inner part of the lower leg, only when you first begin to run. After warming up, the pain may gradually diminish or at least become more manageable. In some cases, the pain comes back later in the run, especially if you go a long distance.

Less common than medial tibial stress syndrome is anterior tibial stress syndrome or anterior shin splints, involving pain and discomfort along the outside of the lower leg. Both types of shin splints are a type of overuse type of injury, characterized by doing “too much, too soon.”

If you have shin splints and keep “pushing through the pain” as many runners do, the symptoms can worsen to the point you have trouble running or even walking. Shin splints are usually initiated by increasing your running distance too quickly, not wearing the right shoes or running on hard surfaces or uneven terrain that you’re not accustomed to. If you “over pronate” or turn your feet inward when you run or have high arches or flat feet, you’re more prone to developing shin splints.

How Do You Know if You Have Them?

An orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist usually can diagnose shin splints based on the history and location of the discomfort. In some cases, your doctor may recommend an x-ray or MRI scan to rule out a stress fracture.

What Can You Do about Shin Splints?

The best way to tame this troublesome condition is to give your legs a break. Ten to 14 days of rest can do wonders for inflamed tendons as can application of an ice pack to reduce swelling and inflammation. Most runners balk at the idea of not running, even for a few days, but you can still stay in shape by swimming, cycling, using a rowing machine and other low-impact activities. After the discomfort subsides, gradually ease back into running. A physical therapist can be of benefit to help return you to full activities and prevent recurrences.

How to Prevent Shin Splints When Running

The best way to prevent shin splints is to gradually work up to longer distances. Experts recommend not increasing your running distance by more than 10% each week. Make sure you’re conditioned before tackling hills. Downhill running is especially hard on your lower legs and place you at higher risk for shin splints. As much as you enjoy running, temper your runs with low-impact activities like rowing, cycling, elliptical machine and swimming to take the stress off of your tendons and joints.

Let a professional evaluate your running form to make sure you’re not over-pronating or otherwise placing excessive stress on your lower body that could trigger shin splints, especially if you experience frequent overuse injuries. If you over-pronate or have flat feet, you may benefit from an orthotic, an insert you place in your shoe to stabilize your feet and reduce stress on them when you walk or run.

Be sure to do a five minute warm-up to stretch and get the blood circulating to your lower extremities before running, and do more calf stretches afterwards.

Protect Your Feet

Love and support your feet! Your feet and legs have to handle a lot of impact when you run. Go to an athletic store where the people know what they’re doing and get fitted with a supportive pair of quality running shoes. Replace your running shoes when they begin to show signs of wear. Nothing can replace the support a quality pair of running shoes offers.

The Bottom Line

Running should be as fun and injury free as possible. Take these steps to prevent painful and troublesome shin splints.

References:

OrthoInformation. “Shin Splints”
MedLine Plus. “Shin splints – Self-Care”

Short Summary:

Shin splints hurt! Even worse, they make it hard to do your daily running workout. This article discusses what shin splints are, what causes them, where you can get professional help for different cases, and what you can do to prevent them.

Written by Theodore A Evans M.D. and the team at South Florida International Orthopaedics