Summer Blog Series: Shin Splints
Shin splints, also called tibial stress syndrome, are a common complaint of runners who increase their mileage or intensity too quickly. Feeling throbbing or aching in the shins is surprisingly common for athletes and runners. Shin splints, however, aren’t a single medical condition. They can be caused by a number of factors; irritated and swollen muscles, over use, stress fractures, over-pronation or flat feet, and running on hard surfaces, to name a few. With shin splints you will feel a dull and aching pain in the front of the lower leg during exercise, or even after exercise. Shins may be painful to the touch, muscles can swell, and nerves can even be affected causing parts of the feet to go numb.
There are various places where the shin can cause pain. Usually, a flatfoot can cause pain in the tibialis posterior, or the front and outside of your shin. High arches can cause anterior lateral shin splints, on the inside of your shin. Less common is pain deep in the back of the leg, caused by tightness in your inner calf muscles, the soleal complex. No matter what kind, shin splints are a mechanical issue, caused by excessive mileage and a pounding stride.
There is good news for all of you who suffer from shin splints: they are very treatable, with quite high success rates! So have hope as you begin your treatment plan. Treatment for shin splints varies according to the nature of your own individual injury. In general, the very first thing to do is to rest in order for your injury to heal. Additionally, ice, NSAIDs, arch supports, range of motion exercises (as recommended by your podiatrist or physical therapist), a neoprene sleeve to support and warm the leg, and physical therapy will be recommended. If your shin splints are caused by stress fractures, you may be put in a walking boot or even need surgery for severe cases.
Remember that recovering from shin splints can be a frustratingly long process. Many runners need up to six months, or more, to recover. Resist the urge to start running again before you are ready, because your injury could become more severe. To bide time and to stay in shape until you heal, you can take up activities that have little impact on your legs such as swimming or cycling. You will know when you are ready to run again by a number of factors including equal flexibility in your legs, activity does not cause pain, or when x-rays show that your stress fractures have healed. To avoid shin splints wear good shoes with the right amount of support for your foot, warm up and then stretch before working out, run on soft surfaces, and stop working out when you feel pain in your shins.