Shin Splints: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
Shin splints are one of the most common injuries reported among runners, and by some estimates, 30 – 40% of beginners will experience shin pain at some point during their training. Understanding shin splints is important for preventing this injury, and everything a beginning (or veteran) runner needs to know for diagnosis and treatment is discussed below.
Causes of Shin Splints
Despite the prevalence of lower leg pain among runners, the exact cause of medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS, the technical name for shin splints) is not entirely understood. Some sports doctors believe calf tightness is to blame, while others assert that fascial restrictions in the periosteum (the muscle that wraps around the shin bone) is the root cause. Shin splints may also be triggered by muscle imbalances, such as weak hips or a weak posterior tibial tendon.
What causes these physiological changes that result in shin pain? The most common reason is that a runner has run too many miles (or added too much intensity) too soon. Often, shin splints are common among new runners who become overeager in their training, or veteran runners who are returning from an injury or extended break. Other common reasons for the development of lower shin pain are running in shoes that are either worn out or the improper fit or doing too many runs on hard surfaces, such as indoor tracks and concrete.
Diagnosing Shin Splints
Determining whether you have shin splints is relatively easy. The best way is to stand barefoot on a hardwood or non-carpeted floor with feet firmly planted below your hips. For the leg that hurts, raise your toes off the ground with your weight resting on your heels. If this movement causes pain on the inside of your shin, then MTSS is likely to blame. However, if no pain is felt during this exercise, you may instead be dealing with a stress fracture in the tibia, which can cause similar pain to shin splints. In this case, you should see a sports doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Treating Shin Splints
The quickest way to alleviate shin splints is to take time off from running in order to allow your body to fully heal. If time off is not an option, compression gear, such as compression socks or calf sleeves, can alleviate shin pain during exercise by drawing blood flow to the affected areas for healing. Calf stretching and strengthening can also help treat shin splints, as can icing the inflamed area after exercise.
Preventing Shin Splints
Shin splints prevention is dependent on the root cause of the shin problems. For many athletes, this means practicing patience when building mileage. For instance, the 10% rule should be followed, meaning not to increase a week’s mileage by more than 10% of what was run in the previous week. Calf and shin exercises, such as calf raises, should also be incorporated into a runner’s daily routine. Finally, tracking mileage on (properly fitting) running shoes and ensuring never to wear them beyond their usable lifetime can also keep shin splints at bay.