Shin splints; a fairly vague, non-medical term used by runners to describe pain felt in the general area of the shin or front of the lower leg.
The pain could be originating from a number of sources but is frequently the result of inflammation in the thin protective layer surrounding the shin bone (tibia) caused by the repetitive impact of running on hard surfaces.
How do I know I have shin splints?
Pain will be felt in the lower leg.
The affected area, generally front or inner edge, may be tender to touch or pain may be felt each time the foot hits the ground when walking or running.
In some cases, pain experienced at the start of a run may ease off as the muscles warm up but will return afterwards, often with a vengeance the following morning!
In some cases, swelling may be visible in the affected area and this will be painful when touched.
It may be possible to feel actual lumps and bumps when touching the affected area, especially against the inner edge of the shin bone.
In some cases, the inflammation may cause redness to appear in the skin over the affected area.
What should I do if I have shin splints?
The inflammation is the result of repetitive stress so continuing to exercise will only exacerbate the situation.
Rest is a vital part of the recovery process and no attempt should be made to run until pain free.
Applying ice treatment is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce inflammation and should be done on a daily basis until the affected area is no longer swollen or painful to touch.
If possible, stretch the affected area by kneeling on the floor then sitting back gently onto your heels, keeping the top of your foot flat on the floor.
Hold for a count of ten. Repeat the stretch several times and at least three times each day.
Seek medical advice
If symptoms fail to improve after several days of appropriate treatment, a visit to your doctor is advised to check for any other, more sinister, reasons for your shin pain.
What are the causes and how can I prevent shin splints?
The most common causes of shin splints appearing in runners are listed below:
- Repetitive stress through running on hard surfaces
- Making sudden or dramatic changes to your training programme e.g. increasing the mileage or the pace
- Running in inadequately cushioned running shoes
- Overpronation: an exaggerated inward roll of the foot which places greater stress on the lower leg when running
- Oversupination: an exaggerated outward roll of the foot which affects its ability to absorb shock naturally
- Continuing to run in worn out running shoes
A visit to a specialist running shoe store with a gait analysis facility will help to rule out many of the above causes of shin splints as gaining an understanding of your running style makes choosing an appropriately cushioned and supportive shoe much easier.
Problems such as overpronation or oversupination, once identified, can be corrected by using orthotics prescribed by a sports podiatrist and then suitable running shoes can be chosen to accommodate them.
It then becomes your responsibility not to undo all of your efforts by reading too much into the sales blurb of your new ‘go-further-go-faster’ trainers.
Make changes to your training programme gradually and incorporate some softer surface, off-road running into your routine – even if it means getting a bit of mud on your go-faster stripe!