How to treat shin splints

Do I Have Shin Splits?

May 12, 2020

by Erin Engelson, Perpetua Fitness staff member

With gyms closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of Dubliners hitting the streets for a daily run. As a lifelong runner, I think this is AMAZING! However, any increase in training volume presents a risk of overuse injuries. One of the most common running injuries, especially among beginners, is Shin Splints.

Shin Splints have become a bit of a catch-all term for discomfort in the lower leg. But not all lower leg pain is shin splints. It also bears noting that there are two specific ailments that the term ‘Shin Splint’ describes – anterior and posterior. This article will cover Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (Posterior Shin Splints).

 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Symptoms are acute pain during your run and dull pain or soreness after your run and throughout the day. Many people report tenderness along the medial side of the lower leg when gentle pressure is applied to a localized spot above the ankle.

Shin Splints
A bone scan shows the area of inflammation associated with Posterior Shin Splints. Image from NIH.gov

 

WHAT CAUSES SHIN SPLINTS?

Though once thought of as a soft tissue injury, Posterior Shin Splints have actually been proven to be a bone injury.

Our bones aren’t made of concrete; they are flexible and porous.  During a run, your tibia bends slightly on impact, like a thin steel rod under a compressive load. In response to the stress of running, bone becomes stronger, but it takes time. This is the same way that your muscles get stronger – by repairing hundreds of micro-injuries sustained during your workout session.

 

Image borrowed from runningwritings.com

 

If the body’s ability to remodel the bone is outpaced by stress from running, your body cannot repair itself quickly enough. Weakness then builds along a specific impact spot on the tibia.

TL;DR: Posterior Shin Splints are primarily an overuse injury. But they can be hastened by other factors:

  • MUSCLE WEAKNESS or IMBALANCE: Calf and hip weakness seems to be a primary aggravator. Your calf muscles help brace the tibia against impact, and strong hip muscles help your body attenuate impact during a run.
  • NOT ENOUGH SUPPORT IN YOUR RUNNING SHOES: Overpronation (when the foot is not properly supported and the arch rolls slightly inward) loads more force onto the inner side of the tibia. Make sure you’re wearing the proper amount of support in your running shoes, especially if you are new to running. Once things are back to normal, if you plan to continue running, I’d recommend checking out a local running store! They will perform a gait analysis and get you into the right shoe.

WHEN DO THEY GO AWAY?

Alleviating and recovering from Posterior Shin Splints requires some patience. You’ll need to reduce your training load in order give your tibia time to repair and rebuild bone density on that weak spot. That doesn’t mean you need to stop exercising. To replace that steady-state cardio, try a lower-impact exercise like cycling or swimming.

Ice may help alleviate some discomfort in the meantime. Grab a bag of frozen peas and leave it on your lower leg for about 15 minutes, 2-3 times per day.

While you’re taking a bit of time off from running, work on building your lower body strength. Check out some of our LIVE Online Classes – they’ll give you the endorphin high that you’re missing and help you build strength. Building calf strength and flexibility will help your tibia better brace against impact as you strike the ground while you run.

 

HOW DO I PREVENT THEM?

  • Train Smart: It’s tempting to keep pushing for longer distances and more running days, especially as you start to see progress and running starts to feel good. But try to keep track of your weekly kilometre totals and not increase by more than 10%-15% each week. This gives your bones adequate time to remodel and strengthen.
  • Get The Right Shoes: Check out a local running store! They will perform a gait analysis and get you into the right shoe. There are a few in Dublin including The Run Hub and Runner’s Need.
  • Don’t Push Through the Pain: Learn how to identify the difference between discomfort and pain. If it just feels tight, go ahead and continue training. If you’re experiencing the acute pain in the leg location described above, reduce or stop your training and address it.
  • Work on Strength: Mix in some cross-training including calf raises, squats, lunges, and core work.

Some of the information for this article was adapted from RUNNING STRONG by Dr. Jordan Metzl.