What are shin splints?
Shin splints are common term used to refer to medial tibia stress syndrome also known as the most universal running injury. They sometimes make you uncomfortable and may feel a little pain on the inside of the shin near the border of the calf muscles and tibia or along the length (in front of) of your shin bone. However, if you don’t take care and treat this painful leg injury properly it can lead to a stress fracture or turn into a chronic injury. Shin splints usually happen when changing training routines and bones, muscle tissues, and tendons are overworked.
This is the most popular among new runners because they seem to run too quick and too much without providing their muscles and bones enough time to recover that makes the shins become overstressed. Experienced runners have less chance to have this issue because they know to build their system up slowly to handle the stress of running. Besides, this injury also happens more among people who tend to have lower bone density, especially women, and ones who have higher body mass index. Sailors and soldiers in poor physical conditions are also easy to suffer from shin splints because they seem to have little history of athletic activities.
In order to determine whether you have shin splints or not, you should have physicians diagnose by an MRI or a bone scan (X-rays are often inaccurate) to rule out medical conditions that may have similar symptoms to shin splints such as reduced blood flow in the lower leg, compartment syndrome, inflamed tendons or popliteal artery entrapment syndrome.
Causes and risk factors of shin splints
- Scientists have shown that the root cause of shin splints is repeating stress on the bone and connective tissue attaching muscle to bone when running, but by a slight bending of the bone when being loaded, not by straight-on impact.
- Having weak bones or a small tibia increases the risk of getting shin splints. For healthy runners, by remodeling the tibia to be thicker and stronger allows their body to respond to stress on the bone so it won’t be a problem for them. That is also a reason why shin problems often happen among less-experienced runners. In this case, their bones have not yet been familiar with the stresses of a high-impact running.
- Ankle over-pronation made muscles fatigue quicker and limits their shock-absorbing ability is one of the common causes of shin splints.
- Increasing your intensity or mileage too quickly can cause shin splints. Additionally, poor running form required the shin to absorb more shock as well as weak calves or hips that doesn’t assist well in bracing the shin bone are also common causes of shin splints.
Other risk factors of shin splints include:
how to prevent shin splints running
For any type of injuries, finding the way to prevent them is more important than finding the way to treat them because you don’t suffer from injury that means your health is also ensured. In order to prevent shin splints, you should begin from the cause and find the way to address them.
- For shin splints, generally, preventing and treating medial tibia stress syndrome is often reducing stress on the tibia. Don’t increase your mileage, intensity, and duration of your runs too quickly and too much.
- Do cross training instead of running every day to put less jarring on the joints and at the same time prevent shin splints cause by overworked.
- Strike mid-foot instead of heel strike or running on your toes. Heel strike may stretch the shin muscles and require them to work harder while running on your toes can stress the calf muscles in the back of your legs.
- Using proper footwear for running is essential in preventing shin splints. In order to choose the best running shoes for shin splints, you can find in another article I posted before. Overall motion control, stability or good neutral running shoes are all good for you. Additionally, combining good shoes with orthotics is also recommended to prevent shin splints.
- Running on softer surfaces or in better cushion shoes also helps reduce impact.
- Hip and calf strength are what you really need to focus on because strong hips and calves can help brace the leg and shinbones against impacts during running. Besides, you can do some exercises to strengthen your feet, calves, ankles, and hips, which support your shins such as One-Legged Bridges, Heel Drop, Monster Walks and Toe Curls.
- Taking calcium/vitamin D supplement is also considered as a good way to prevent tibia stress fractures by 25% and that supplementation possibly help prevent medial tibia stress syndrome as well.
Shin splints treatment
If you can address the root of the problem right away you will not miss too many days of running. Here are some recommended treatments for your shin splints.
- Icing is known as a common treatment for general recovery and shin splints are not exception. Put ice packs on the painful area for 15 minutes every few hours until symptoms relieved. However, there’s very little scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness in curing shin splints. Anyway, this is still helpful in relieving your pain.
- Use acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium to ease the pain.
- Using orthotics has some success in treating shin splints. Custom inserts are proven to be able to change the distribution of pressure on the bottom of the feet, which may be related to shin pain while over-the-counter semi-rigid orthotics are cheaper but provide good treatment for shin splints compared to custom orthotics.
- Extracorporeal shockwave therapy has been considered as a treatment possibility in recent years. In this method, shockwaves are directly applied to the tibia to promote new bone growth. However, ESWT treatment is often expensive and difficult to find.
- I think that giving your body time to recover and rebuild from the stress is very essential. Remember that it can take several weeks to a few months to heal the tibia. During this time, you can switch to lower impact activities. Additionally, you have to know what are additional reasons overstressing your shins to address them.
- If you want to continue running, you have to reduce tibia and impact loading. Increasing your stride frequency about 180 steps per minute or more to reduce the impact your tibia absorbs every time your foot step on the ground. Change your training to not put too much stress on your tibia. Reducing mileage, duration and intensity of your runs will all help.
When coming back to running after treating the pain, it is better to change your training program to provide your body with enough time to strengthen your shinbone. You have to increase distance and speed gradually to avoid a recurrence. Instead of increasing mileage by 10% every single week following 10% rule to avoid injury, you should increase mileage by 10% for three weeks, then have a “down week” to give your tibia time to recover. But if you feel like your shin injury becomes worse, you have to stop running.
Don’t slight any discomforts or pains on your body because they may be the danger that threatens your health. It is good to have wide knowledge of many types of injuries to detect them as soon as possible and have the best treatment for them before they getting worse. I hope that this article gives you useful information for your running life. Good luck with your shin splints!