What are Shin Splints?
Media Tibial Stress Syndrome if you want to impress your doctor with your self diagnosis. Or simply pain in the lower leg, typically front or toward the inside of the shin. This pain is often caused by tiny micro tears in the muscles surrounding the shin bone, or Tibia.
What causes Shin Splints?
Often associated with running, Shin Splints are more often than not caused by increasing the mileage too fast, and not giving the legs time to adapt to this new pounding exercise.
Another common cause is over pronating (rolling) the foot. This can be due to your own biomechanics or by the terrain you choose to run on. If you have no choice but to run on roads, then try to avoid the edges that slope downward from the centerline of the road. This also applies to beaches with steep drop offs toward the water. The flatter the surface from side to side, the better.
If your feet are landing on a surface that slopes sideways it will cause you to roll your foot more than it is used to. Continue this for some distance and you are inviting trouble. On quieter roads, if possible, run along the flatter centerline until you are forced to move over for traffic. (not advisable if you can't run without your headphones!). If the roads are too busy for this then switch sides often to balance out the sloping edges before any one side becomes too stressed.
Running is one of the cheapest entry level sports out there. You do not need much equipment to do it and most people already have everything they need before they decide to try it. Even so, it is worth investing in a good pair of footwear. Old, dead soles are the next biggest cause of Shin Splints so it's worth it if you replace them regularly. Most studies show that the most expensive pairs do not equate to better performance or reduced injury rates. Find a pair that works for you, and replace them often. The more you use them the more often you should replace them. The harsher the surface you train on, the more often you should replace them.
What are the Symptoms?
- Tightness in shin, can fade or become an aching pain as exercise continues.
- Shins can be painful to touch.
- Pain is often in lower 2 thirds of shin or Tibia, and can often extend right down toward inner ankle.
- In mild cases, pain and discomfort fade as inflammation subsides, after training. If early symptoms are ignored and training persists, severity of the pain can occur and in this case may not fade after training is finished.
- Some redness, swelling and puffiness may occur along the shin bone.
- If continually ignored and not given adequate recovery or treatment, shin splints may become Stress Fractures.
How do you treat them?
Avoiding them in the first place is always the best option. Failing that, pay attention to the early warning signs, reduce the amount of stresses you place on the legs and increase recovery times between training. Unlike most other overuse or repetitive strain injuries, the muscles of the shins are very difficult to rest adequately once injured. Ignoring the early signs and pushing through the pain is not recommended.
For new and enthusiastic runners, refrain from increasing your weekly mileage by more than 10%. Take extra recovery days at first signs of pain.
Also be mindful of the type of surface you are training on: avoid running on concrete at all costs. Asphalt is far better an option over concrete and even asphalt is harsh on both your shins and your sneakers lifespan. Sandy wood trails are one of the best surfaces for running and it is this that they try to replicate with AstroTurf and running tracks so choose these if you don't have stretches of sandy woods to run through
Short term treatment would include rest, ice, compression, elevation and massage. A more long term solution is to strengthen the muscles of the legs, including the calf muscles, quads and glutes. Include regular stretching to the training plan, and if you have a long stride with your foot striking the ground out in front of your knee, consider speeding up your foot turnover rate by shortening your stride. ( added bonus of saving energy which translates directly to improved endurance, and in most cases will result in a faster pace for similar exertion!)
If prone to recurring episodes of Shin pain, even after adding strength and conditioning to your training, then the cause may be more complicated, possibly down to biomechanics of foot and lower leg, causing over probation of the foot while running/training. If this is the case it is always a good idea to get a specialist to check it out and advise corrective treatments such as orthotics or particular training sneakers.
Comment below with any questions or useful tips you may have.
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