Shin Splints is one of the more common leg injuries among runners and other athletes. This refers to medial tibia stress syndrome which is the straining of the connective tissue between the muscle and tibia bone.
The symptoms usually consist of redness, swelling, or tenderness along the shin bone or tibia. The location of the pain is usually on the lower inside part of your shin.
Pain may be mild initially and only arise during strenuous physical activity. More severe cases will continue to hurt even during periods of rest.
In the past, many lower leg injuries were quickly classified as splints.
However, in recent years doctors have differentiated between the medialand anterior pains (see picture below).
While the anterior pains used to be classified as splints, physicians and therapists have discovered that many of these anterior pains are due to stress fractures or compartment syndrome.
Pain associated with a stress fracture usually is at a precise area on the bone and can be pinpointed, whereas the pain from a shin splint is in the connective tissue and in a region of the shin-area on the lower leg.
Below are some prevention and self-treatment measures. As with any injury, you are your own best judge to determine the severity and if medical attention is required.
Pain can be nature’s way of forcing our bodies to rest, relax, and allow it time to heal. Ignoring severe pains could lead to longer recovery times and even serious injuries, so please consult a medical professional if you are in doubt about the cause and severity of your injury.
Shin splints can occur from a number of reasons, but the most common causes are below:
- Overtraining: Trying to do too much too soon can lead to an injury. Make sure that your training plans allow for gradual increases in mileage and intensity. You should also try to get at least 1-2 rest days per week. Trying to get into shape in just a few weeks can lead to several weeks of downtime while nursing an injury.
- Worn-out or Improper Footwear: Wearing shoes that have worn-out cushioning or a lack of arch support could force your feet into motions, such as overpronating which can cause shin splints. Make sure that you replace your running shoes every 400 miles and that you choose the right type of shoes for your foot-type -neutral, flat, or high-arch. A running shoe specialty store could also help you evaluate your foot to see if you may need inserts or arch supports.
- Strengthen Your Leg Muscles: One way to lessen the strain on your tendons and connective tissue is to strengthen the supporting cast of surrounding muscles. Try some of the workouts on the leg exercise page, especially focus on the calf muscle -toe raises. As you progress, try adding hand weights with these exercises for additional benefit.
- Cross-Training: Another way to avoid the strain that causes this injury is to add some additional activity, besides running, to your routine. This can be swimming, biking, rowing, or elliptical machine.These cross-training activities use other muscle groups which both strengthen your leg muscles and allow the “running muscles” to get some rest.
- Uneven Terrain: Running on uneven surfaces, such as the side of a crowned road surface, can place undue strain on the uphill leg. The uphill leg is forced to curve slightly inward to remain balanced, and therefore puts that leg in a overpronation situation. For runners that run on the same side of the road all of the time, this cumulative effect could cause shin splints. Try mixing up the terrain a bit to reduce the impacts of this.
As mentioned above, self-treatment is only appropriate for minor pain and discomfort that you may notice at the onset of shin splints.
For more serious pain and swelling, seek medical attention.
Treatment for is very similar to that of most other muscle and tissue injuries – remember the acronym, R-I-C-E:
- Rest: Reduce your activity level and allow time for the injury to heal. If the pain is minor, try other low-impact activities.
- Ice: Injuries like shin splints may swell up at the point of irritation. Use an ice-pack and apply to the injured area for 15 minutes. Repeat 3-4 times a day, as necessary. You can also reduce the swelling through the use of anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen & Advil. Reducing the swelling increases the blood flow to the area which can expedite the healing process.
- Compression: Compression is another way to help reduce swelling and the pain of an injury. You can apply pressure to the injured area or use a compression sleeve.
- Elevation: Elevate your leg up off the ground and above your heart. You can do this in the evening by placing a pillow under your foot while lying in bed. This will help drain some of the fluid away from the shin and reduce the swelling.
Shin splints can be a painful and disruptive injury. Use the preventative measures above to avoid them, and seek treatment at the first signs of discomfort to avoid long training downtimes.