So You Have Shin Splints … What to do Next?

So summer is coming, and you’ve decided to get in shape – or maybe you finally took the leap and are training for that long-distance race. Unfortunately, as you’re running you notice pain in your shins… and it’s not getting any better. Even though this will feel like a setback, the truth is that shin splints are a common occurrence for runners. They even impact athletes participating in other sports and activities, too. Knowing how to best prevent and treat them is essential.

What are Shin Splints?

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome is the scientific medical term for shin splints and is described as “hurting or discomfort in the front of your lower leg”.  It is most typically seen in runners or in athletes who expose their lower limbs to repeated stresses.

Often you will feel pain or discomfort in your shin whilst you’re running.  Initially the pain may stop right after you stop running, however if you keep pushing you may find it occurring sooner in the run and that the pain becomes longer lasting.  Ice and rest may no longer be helping.

Left uncheck and poorly managed it can lead to stress fractures too, so it is important to understand what you can do to prevent and manage your shin pain.

Risk Factors for Shin Splints

Physical conditioning:

Studies show that faster runners have less incidence of stress fractures. This is because the faster your leg moves during a run, the less loading impact your leg will absorb.

To optimise your running speed and performance it really comes down to strength. Weakness in areas such as the hips or knees can lead to compensatory techniques, increasing loading and impact, increasing the likelihood of injury.

New runners:

 If you are new to running, you may not be using a running style that puts the least amount of stress on your joints. The more energy inefficient your running style is the more loading occurs on your joints. This may lead to pain and injury in both short and long-distance running. It’s not to say these deviations will cause pain for everyone. However, they can be a factor in the pain that you are feeling.

It is important to find a running style that works for you.  As a general rule of thumb increasing your cadence (how often your feet are ticking over) will often improve your running style and reduce the stresses on your shins and lower limbs.

Footwear:

For runners, it is important to make sure you change out your shoes frequently. Continued running on shoes that are too worn so that they no longer do what they are supposed to do is detrimental. Not only will worn shoes be uncomfortable, but they can be dangerous, too. Do the following and ensure you’re wearing the best shoes possible.

There is no one right type of shoe.  However, if you are suffering from shin pain it often helps to be in a cushioning shoe.  Shoe inserts may also be helpful for some people.

Increased distance: 

Sometimes both novice and even experienced runners try to put on too many kilometres, too soon.

If you are un-accustomed to running and immediately try to go to a 5km or if your only accustomed to 5km and try to go to a ½ marathon or marathon distance without the appropriate training, there are bound to be issues.  It’s not to say you won’t ever run these distances, but you need to gradually increase the kilometres to allow your body to accommodate.

A gradual graded program is very beneficial. During this process, you’ll make small increases over a couple of weeks instead of just adding on a bunch of extra kilometres without a plan or preparation. This will allow your body to accommodate and adapt to the stresses.

So you Have Pain … Now What?

Having shin splints does not necessarily mean you have to stop running. It does, however, mean you need to consider some things carefully.

First off, how bad is the pain? A mild ache may not be that much of an issue and could mean that you just need to warm up properly next time, increase your cadence of possibly drop the distance a bit.

If the pain is more severe, you may need more days off between runs. Take this time to go to the gym or some other fun activity that does not require jogging or running. Stay active, but stay aware of your pain level, too.

Unfortunately, sometimes pain may require a few weeks off running. This is especially true if the pain lingers after you’ve stopped running. During this off-time, you can help keep your conditioning by doing water running mixed with a good conditioning program in the gym.  As you return to running it is important to slowly progress back into your typical running program.

A Few Things We Recommend

Overcoming shin splints can be made easier if you do a few of the right things.  There are a few things we think really helps:

1. Rest

Make sure you are giving yourself plenty of time to recover.  If you are still running, avoid running on back to back days.

2. Ice

Icing is a great way of managing you shin splint symptoms.  Ice massage is a fast way of getting this done.  Freeze some water in a paper water cup and slowly peel it back rubbing it up and down the shin.  You shin should become, cool, cold, painfully cold and then numb. This should only take a couple of minutes with this technique.

3. Strapping

Using RockTape™ or rigid tape can offer some support and relief of shin splint pain.

4. Cross Training

Consider the benefit of doing additional types of exercise.   This will help keep you strong overall.   Ensure you work on both your mobility and strength … test your body in ways which running does not.

5. See your Physio / Exercise Physiologist

Make yourself a priority and book in a session with your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to help you identify where your mobility and strength deficits lie so that you can spend your time working on improving your body’s capacity

 

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