The pain of shin splints is familiar to most runners—it is one of the most common injuries runners face. The term “shin splints” describes a shooting pain in the front of the leg, a medical condition known as medial tibial stress.
Shin splints vary from stress injuries that cause swelling in the shinbone or in the tibialis anterior muscle to stress fractures in the shin bone. Stress fractures are typically the result of swelling in the leg that has not been treated properly.
Although shin splints are common in runners, they are not exclusive to runners. Anyone can suffer from shin splints, and athletes who play hard surface sports that require sudden stops and starts, such as basketball, are also more prone to this type of injury. Shin splints are also common in people with flat feet or high arches, as well as in people in military training.
What causes shin splints?
Shin splints are generally known as overuse injuries caused by repetitive impact, but there are a few factors that may contribute to the pain. Bad shoes, underpronation (rolling your feet inward when running), unnecessary impact or force on the legs, rapidly increasing running distance or frequency, low bone density and being overweight can all lead to shin splints.
How can shin splints be prevented?
It is possible to prevent shin splints, or at least reduce your risk of developing the painful condition. First and foremost, listen to your body. Be aware of any pain or discomfort you may be experiencing during exercise or while playing sports and know when to take it easy. Rest can work wonders for preventing more serious or painful injuries.
Strengthening your lower legs and feet is also important if you want to prevent shin splints. Calf raises, jumping in sand, barefoot running and stretching the foot muscles by rolling your feet on a lacrosse ball are a few ways you can strengthen and stretch the muscles in your lower legs and feet.
What is the best treatment for shin splints?
The best way to treat shin splints is to avoid getting them in the first place, but if you do experience pain in the front of your leg, here are a few tips to help you get some relief:
Rest. Rest is crucial for any athlete. Without giving your body time to rest, it cannot heal from an injury like shin splints. Know when it’s time to take a day or two off.
Ice. This goes hand in hand with rest. If you are experiencing pain in your shins, ice and elevate your legs for at least 20 minutes a day to relieve some of the swelling.
Lose weight. The more weight you carry, the heavier the impact of every step on the bones, joints, and soft tissue in your feet and legs.
Get new shoes. Old, worn out or improperly fitting shoes are a common culprit for shin splints. If you’ve never been fitted for running shoes, now’s the time. Consider orthotics to help absorb some of the shock from running. If you haven’t replaced your shoes recently, it may be time for some new kicks.
Have your gait analyzed. Stop by your local running store for a gait analysis. A sports physical therapist may also be able to take a look at your gate to determine if you are overpronating or underpronating your feet as you walk, jog or run.
See your doctor. If your pain is persistent, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. If your shin splints have developed into a stress fracture, early treatment is critical in preventing a more serious fracture.
Shin splints are typically easily treated with homecare methods, but it’s important that you listen to your body and know when rest is necessary. The decision to “push through the pain” is not always healthy or beneficial.