The Real Reason You Have Shin Splints
This article on shin splints was written by Marq Jordan, Fearless PT
It’s the start of a new year and so you’ve decided to get in shape – or maybe you finally took the leap and are training for that long distance race. Unfortunately, as you’re running you begin to notice pain in your shins… and it’s not getting any better. Even though this will feel like a setback, the truth is that shin splints are a common occurrence for runners – and even athletes participating in other sports and activities, too, so knowing how to best treat them is essential
What are shin splints?
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome is the scientific medical term for shin splints, and is described as “hurting or discomfort in the front of your lower leg”. It is usually caused by long-running or repeated stress. Sometimes, it can stop right after you stop running, but it can also lead to more repetitive and longer-lasting pain that merely ice and rest can’t help.
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome can eventually lead to stress fractures, too, so knowing the signs of the condition can help runners stay healthy.
Risk factors for shin splints
- Physical conditioning: Studies have shown that faster runners have less incidence of stress fractures. This is because the faster your leg moves during a run, the less loading impact your leg will absorb. Also, weakness in another area such as the hips or knees could lead to compensatory techniques causing increased loading and impact, and more chances for injury. Think carefully about each movement you make, and don’t just focus on one area of the body when you train.
- New runners: If you are new to running, you may not be using a running style that puts the least amount of stress on your joints. For example, some runners can’t handle a heel strike running style, even though it is more common than forefoot striking. The more energy inefficient your running style is, the more potential loading on your joints – which can lead to pain and injury in both short and long distance running. It’s not to say these deviations will cause pain for everyone but it can be a factor in the pain that you are feeling, so when you begin running, make sure you find a style that is comfortable and productive for yourself.
- Increased distance: Sometimes both novice and even experienced runners try to put on too much mileage, too soon. If you are accustomed to running a 5k and immediately try to go marathon or half marathon distances without appropriate training, there are bound to be issues. It’s not to say you won’t ever run these distances, but you need to gradually increase the mileage to allow your body to accommodate. A gradual graded program is very beneficial, and during this process, you will make small increases over a couple of weeks instead of just adding on a bunch of extra miles without a plan or preparation. Running may not seem like it would involve the same types of accommodations that other sports do when training, but the exact opposite is true, especially when distance running.
- Shoe wear: For runners, it is important to make sure you change out your shoes frequently. Continued running on shoes that are too worn so that they no longer do what they are supposed to do can be detrimental. Not only will worn shoes be uncomfortable, but they can be dangerous, too. Checking on the quality of shoe – the laces and sole, the inserts or even the way that they fit can go a long way toward preventing shin splints and other injuries that are associated with running.
What does this mean?
Don’t worry, having shin splints does not mean you have to stop running. It does, however, mean you need to consider some things carefully, though. First off, how bad is the pain? A mild ache is really not that much of an issue, and could mean that you just need to warm up properly next time. If the pain is more severe, you may need more days off between runs. Take this time to go to the gym or some other fun activity that does not require jogging or running.
Unfortunately, sometimes pain may require a few weeks off of hard running, especially if the pain seems to linger after you’ve stopped running. During this off-time, try some light jogging over short distances to keep yourself limber. If you can do this type of activity for 2 straight weeks without pain, or only mild pain, slowly progress back into your typical running program.
Treatment for Shin Splints
Rest: Make sure you are giving yourself plenty of time to recover, especially in the early stages of caring for your injury. Icing for a few minutes at a time may help to numb the pain, making shin splints more bearable. Rest is useful throughout all stages of shin splint treatment, so be sure to utilize it.
Cross-training: Just like any other athlete, runners need to be strong overall. Sticking to one sport all the time – be it basketball, baseball or running – is not good for the athlete. Spend some time in the gym working on mobility and strength, and test your body in ways that running does not. Building up overall strength and teaching yourself new skills is recommended. .
Seek out a physical therapist: In all 50 states, physical therapists (PT) can see you without a referral from a doctor, which saves you time and money. The PT can help correct your form if need be, as well as give you exercises to help address known issues and muscular deficits that are a contributing factor to your shin pain. PT’s can also use manual therapy and other interventions tailored to your personal needs to help with the injury while educating you on how to reduce the pain that you may experience while running.
Make sure you are changing shoes: Recommendations are to change shoes about every 4-6 months, but the need for this may be more frequent depending on individual mileage. Check your shoes, and make sure you choose a suitable pair. Plenty of people continue running in shoes that are worn down too far, or are not meant for running on the track or the street. This is not providing the right kind of support, and will not do any good in helping you to properly achieve your distance running goals.
If your shin splints are still not improving after a couple of weeks, it’s a good idea to make an appointment to be evaluated by a Physical Therapist trained in sports management like the ones at Fearless Physical Therapy. Fearless Physical Therapy is a mobile rehab clinic that will actually come to you! While seeing a PT may not be the first step you think of, consulting and working with them instead of going to a physician can provide a lot of value to athletes.
Start searching for a physical therapy clinic in your area that will meet your needs and help put you on the right track in your recovery by using the BetterPT physical therapy clinic locator. This will put you in touch with a PT clinic that can help you address and achieve your goals with an individualized treatment and care plan. For those on the go, there is also a BetterPT app that you can download on your phone or tablet.
Dr. Marquis Jordan decided to become a physical therapist after his grandmother lost the use of her legs when he was a pre-teen. He grew up playing sports like basketball and football, but the first time he stepped foot in the wrestling room a passion was ignited. As a former wrestler, he knows the effect injuries and pain can have on someone’s psyche. Dr. Jordan is a graduate of the Medical College of Virginia and has participated in numerous sports symposiums and a year-long manual therapy residency. He has worked with injury clinics for athletes and has even worked with professional athletes and injured U.S. military members. His interests lie in grapplers, martial arts, soccer and basketball players and their recovery from injuries, which has peaked with the participation of his own kids in these sports.