This is the third installment of Marx Running’s Guide to Common Running Injuries. In the first two blog posts, we covered plantar fasciitis and then patellofemoral pain syndrome (aka Runner’s Knee), but now we are focusing our attention between these two areas — to the shin. Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome as it’s officially known, is the source of pain for many beginner and even some veteran runners.
What are shin splints? Shin splints are the result of overloading the muscles on and around the tibia, or the area between your ankle and knee. The muscles or tendons or bone tissue that attach to the tibia become inflamed causing pain. The pain can either be razor sharp or dull and throbbing depending on how severe the shin splints are. Shin splints typically account for around 15% of all running injuries. Shin splint pain is typically difficult to pin point and is worse in the morning because the muscle tissue in the lower leg has had time to tighten up over night.
What causes shin splints? The main cause of shin splints is building activity volume or intensity too quickly. At Marx Running, we see a lot of high schoolers develop shin splints who are new to running. these poor kids, having never run consistently in their lives, are thrown into long runs and races in only a matter of a few weeks without proper buildup. This is a classic case of overloading the lower leg muscles. Inflexibility can contribute to shin splints as well. As running puts stress on the lower leg muscles, tightness contributes to the muscle pulling on the attachments to the tibia. Excessive over-pronation, for the same reasons, is another common cause. Doing a lot of running on hard, or especially uneven surfaces, can also lead to shin splints. Finally, worn out footwear tends to be another culprit.
How do you treat it? The best remedy for shin splints is to take the stress off of the tibial muscles and tendons. Resting is the best way to do this. However, cross training can be a great tool. Swimming, for instance, allows you to stretch the tibial muscles while not increasing stress. You’re still able to get in a workout and maintain fitness. Similarly, cycling can be a good substitute for running while you’re sidelined by shin splints. Icing the area will certainly help with the inflammation. As you do begin to run again, be sure to wear some sort of calf compression. Compression socks or compression calf sleeves allow you to tightly hold the tibial muscles to the tibia, reducing vibration and additional tearing or straining. Likewise, supportive shoes will make a drastic difference here if you don’t already have them. And as you add running back into your exercise regimen, build slowly! Overloading of the muscles is what got you injured in the first place, so take your sweet time building back up. Avoid hard or uneven surfaces and hills at first. Gradually add these components back in as you progress without any pain. Finally, stretch your calves like it’s your second job. With any lower leg injury, stretching your calves and Achilles will make a huge difference in the recovery. Doing 3 sets of 12 Eccentric Calf Raises on each leg once a day will speed up your recovery time and help you avoid injury in the future.
Bottom line: If you have shin splints:
1) Rest or cross train (objective: take stress off the shin)
2) Ice to reduce inflammation
3) Stretch, especially your calves, like it’s your job. Do this –> video link
4) Wear calf compression to reduce tibial muscle vibration
5) If you over-pronate or have worn out shoes, replace your sneakers
As you are coming back from this injury:
1) Build mileage very slowly!
2) Stick to soft surfaces if you can. Avoid uneven surfaces and hills
3) Use calf compression when you do exercise
4) Stay on the stretching for preventative purposes
We hope this helped. Keep checking back for the next installment in our injury guide As always, if you have any requests on topics you’d like us to tackle, feel free to e-mail raceinfo [at] marxrunning [dot] com.