Shin Splints: Causes, Symptoms And Prevention
Athletes are no strangers to injuries: here at The Run Hub, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis and stress fractures are a cornerstone of our daily vocabulary. One of the most common, but also one of the most debilitating injuries we as runners often suffer from are shin splints.
The term “shin splints” is an umbrella term for pain experienced in the shins, or the anterior part of the lower leg, and usually derives from small tears as a result of overuse or overtraining. Endurance athletes, or anyone practicing a high-impact sport like running, are particularly susceptible to such an overuse injury, and if left unattended, the pain could reach such a crescendo as to force one to hang up their runners for an indeterminable amount of time. Thankfully, there are ways to treat shin splints and even more ways to prevent them. Here are a couple of indicators of shin splints and a few remedial methods to ensure you can keep on pounding the pavements and trails with ease.
There are a couple of factors that can contribute to shin splints: the most common among these, and often the precursor to them, is the overuse of tight, weak and/or sore muscles. Shin splints can therefore be a common injury among newcomers to the sport, who may rush to increase their mileage too quickly for their bodies to keep up, but it can even afflict veterans of the sport as a result of training on tight, weak or fatigued muscles. The most common causes of shin splints include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Overtraining or the overuse of fatigued or tight muscles.
- Shoes without the adequate arch support.
- Training on uneven terrain.
- Having flat feet or fallen arches.
There are three main types of shin splints that can thus arise:
- Inflammation of the anterior tendon: this is usually a result of overtraining without including adequate recovery periods proportional to the training one is doing, or without the proper time taken to form a base level of fitness
- Inflammation of the posterior tendon: this shin splint can come from training on tight or tired muscles. By forcing the muscle to do a lot more work than it is able to do, one will begin to fatigue the muscle even more and eventually cause further inflammation and pain.
- Stress fracture shin splints: while this can occur on its own, it can also result from ignoring the signs of either the former two types of shin splints, as if the muscle can no longer absorb the shock of impact, then the force of the blow is transferred to the bone. This can result in a stress fracture, which will take a lot more time and work to resolve.
If you are beginning to develop shin splints, or have had a persistent ache or pain along your lower leg, then you may experience anything from an aching/throbbing/tenderness along the shin to an intense pain that can stop you from running for some time. If you feel such pain growing as you run, then the best thing you can do is stop and rest: the worst way to treat pain is by ignoring it. If one was to continue training with shin splints, then all one would be doing is aggravating the pain, which can, of course, lead to further injuries that are much more difficult to treat.
Treatment And Prevention
If shin splints prove to be at all persistent, then the best treatment at first is rest. Continued use of the muscle and bone groups in the lower leg will only agitate it further. Should the pain not abate, and running prove to be causing you further pain, then there are a number of remedial actions one can take to ease the painful sensation:
- Reduce daily activity i.e. spend less time putting stress on the afflicted areas.
- Rest and ice the shins for about twenty to thirty minutes, three times a day.
- Include more stretching in your daily routine.
There are also a number of preventative measures one can take both during recovery and after one is back on their feet that will not only safeguard against further injuries, but will also help you improve your training so that you can run without fear of pain:
- Invest in the right shoes for you. The best way to ensure you are running in the correct footwear is by getting a thorough gait analysis by a specialist running store. Incorrect footwear or inappropriate support will only exaggerate already irregular movements in the foot and lower leg.
- Include strengthening and conditioning work in your weekly routine. Such training is not only advantageous to your next parkrun PB or strava segment, but it will also allow your body to recover faster and better for a more thorough approach to your training and active lifestyle.
- Introduce cross-training to your training: whether it is cycling, swimming, or just getting out and staying on your feet outside of running, there is an abundance of lesser-impact sports that will take the strain off of your shins.
Injuries are often perceived as a necessary evil, or even a rite of passage - but they don’t have to be. By taking the right steps and the requisite precautions (and above all, listening to your body), you can safely nab that next PB or move up to the next stage in your running career without having to take weeks, or even months, out at a time. Here at The Run Hub, our specialist staff provide a thorough gait analysis to ensure you get put in the right shoes for your feet and gait, and are also happy to provide advice on all things running, so don’t hesitate to pop in or get in touch!