Shin splints are one of the most common injuries for runners, dancers, and other athletes. Known medically as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints occur from repeated stress of impact on the shinbone (tibia). It manifests as pain and tenderness along the front of the leg. Shin splints can be painful, but thankfully they are both fixable and preventable.
Who is at risk of shin splints?
Anyone who engages in activity that frequently exerts force on the legs can potentially get shin splints. It is common for:
- Runners, but particularly beginners who are new to running;
- Gymnasts and dancers who have hard landings on the floor;
- Sports participants in soccer, basketball, tennis, etc who make frequent and abrupt starts and stops during play.
In addition, risk factors include running on hills or hard surfaces, and having flat feet or high arches.
How to prevent shin splints
There are a few common causes of shin splints. If you are aware of these causes, you can take measures to prevent shin splints from happening in the first place.
Cause #1: Not stretching before exercise
Prevention: Prep your leg muscles beforehand! Stretches to avoid shin splints include calf raises, hip rotations, lateral lunges, and air squats.
In addition, incorporate regular strength training into your exercise regimen. Strengthening your legs, ankles, and hips can help them better tolerate high impact activities.
Cause #2: Bad shoes
Wearing ill-fitting, worn-out, or inappropriate shoes is just asking for trouble.
Prevention: Invest in a good pair of running shoes with a lot of cushioning and stability. These shoes are specifically designed to help absorb the shock of impact and disperse it more evenly, so your tibia doesn’t get the full force of it.
Make sure the shoes fit properly! They should fit snugly, but without any discomfort. Replace your shoes occasionally, since worn shoes contribute to shin splints. Runners should replace their shoes every 350 to 500 miles or so.
You may also want to consider supplementing with shock-absorbing insoles or arch support inserts.
Cause #3: Doing too much, too soon, for too long
Beginning runners often fall into the trap of increasing their distance or speed too quickly. Advanced athletes either push themselves too hard while training, or introduce changes to their training too abruptly. Doing too much without giving the body time to adjust overloads the shins.
Prevention: For runners, increase mileage or pace no more than 10% for three weeks, and take it back down on the fourth week to recover. And repeat. The key for any athlete is to make gradual and steady increases when it comes to training or exercising. Don’t get so anxious to see results that you set yourself back with an injury!
Cause #4: Poor form
Running is more than just walking fast! You need to have proper form. Running improperly can place unnecessary, repeated, and prolonged stress on the wrong parts of your body. This is a recipe for shin splints (and other injuries!).
Prevention: Your entire body is involved in running, from your head to your arms to your toes. Any one part with incorrect movement or positioning can cause pain in the long run. Proper form involves the following:
- Look straight ahead, not up or down.
- Pull your shoulders back but keep them relaxed.
- Avoid landing on the heel with a straight leg — instead, when your foot strikes the ground, it should be right underneath your knee, with your shin perpendicular to the ground.
- Land and push off with the ball of your foot.
- Don’t flex the toes up as you land.
- Keep your legs as relaxed as possible.
It may be a lot to think about, but having proper running form is half the battle of preventing shin splints. And the more you consciously practice it, the more natural it becomes.
How to fix shin splints
Prevention is ideal, but what if you already have shin splints? Treatment for shin splints is simple: rest. Shin splints can take months to completely heal. Ice and painkillers can help you deal with the pain as they heal.
Rest: If you are an active athlete, taking time off is probably the last thing you want to do! But resting the shins is important. During this time, cross-train with activities that are low-impact, such as swimming, to keep your fitness level up.
Ice: Ice your shins for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for a few days.
Painkillers: Over-the-counter ibuprofen or aspirin can also help with swelling and pain.
You should be pain free for two weeks before easing back into your former activity again.
When should I see a doctor about shin splints?
If adequate rest, ice, and painkillers don’t provide relief, you should visit a doctor. Lower leg pain could also be indicative of tendonitis, compression syndrome, or a stress fracture. A doctor will need to run tests to diagnose the problem and recommend the appropriate treatment.
In and Out Express Care enjoys serving some of Hampton Roads’ elite athletes. Whether you’re a beginning runner or advanced athlete, know that you can stop by one of our four convenient urgent care locations in Hampton Roads to receive top care for your injuries!