Shin splints are a common problem for runners, and they are more common among women. The condition is so common that there are very few runners who can say they’ve never experienced the telltale pain. For some, they are just a minor annoyance, a twinge or ache that they can ignore and push through during their daily runs. For others, they can be debilitating, with a deep ache that’s present even when they are sitting still, and which prevents them from running at all.
Although shin splints are common, they don’t have to be a fact of life.
What are Shin Splints?
Shin splints are a repetitive stress injury caused by strain on the muscles and tendons on the tibia, one of the bones in the lower leg. The most common cause is the repetitive impact of the ball of the foot against a hard surface, like the foot striking the pavement during running. The condition is most common in runners, but it can also occur in dancers and gymnasts.
Activities that are most likely to cause shin splints include:
∙ Running on hard surfaces, especially downhill because the muscles in your lower leg are more vulnerable when your feet are at a downward angle;
∙ Jumping on the balls of your feet on hard surfaces, especially repetitive bouncing;
∙ Sports or activities that have frequent stops and starts, such as basketball; and,
∙ Sudden increases in the intensity, duration, or frequency of your activities.
People who are more at risk for shin splints are:
∙ Women, because of the angle of the shins to the hips;
∙ People with flat feet or rigid arches, because the foot cannot properly absorb or redirect the force of the impact;
∙ People who work out on hard surfaces, such as pavement, basketball courts, and tennis courts; and,
∙ People who exercise in improper or worn footwear.
Shin splints are characterized by a sharp or dull pain in the front of both shins. You may also feel pain and swelling when pressing on your shins and when walking. The pain generally worsens during and after exercise and gets better with rest.
Preventing Shin Splints
The best way to prevent shin splints is to avoid activities that are likely to cause them. For runners, this means:
∙ Using compression tights for women to encourage blood flow and help flush the waste products produced by exercise out of your muscles;
∙ Making sure that you are wearing the right shoes and that they fit properly. People’s feet continue to change, even after puberty. If it has been several years, you should have your feet measured to make sure you are wearing the right size.
∙ Making sure your shoes are in optimal condition. The structures and supports inside your running shoes can wear down over time. You should also replace your shoes after every 350 to 500 miles of running, depending on your weight and running habits;
∙ Wearing arch supports or other orthotics to correct flat or rigid arches;
∙ Doing exercises that strengthen your calf muscles, such as toe lifts. Strengthening the calves supports the muscles on the front of your shins, and helps prevent muscle imbalances in the lower leg; and
∙ Making gradual increases to your exercise duration, frequency, or intensity.
Treating Shin Splints
The best way to treat shin splints is to rest until the pain has passed. You don’t need to give up all activity, but you should avoid highimpact, weightbearing exercises in favor of low impact exercises like swimming or cycling. Other treatments include:
∙ Applying ice packs to your shins for 15 to 20 minutes, four to eight times per day; and
∙ Taking overthecounter pain medicine.
Keep in mind that once you have shin splints it’s possible to develop them again, especially if you continue to do activities that can trigger them. It can also take several weeks for shin splints to fully resolve. Once the pain and swelling have passed, you should gradually resume your normal activities. If the pain returns, stop your normal activities and resume the shin splint treatment steps until the pain resolves.
Consult your physician if the pain is debilitating, if it continues for more than four weeks without getting any better, or if it worsens despite following the shin splint treatment steps.