What are Shin Splints?
Shin splints is a broad term used to describe the pain you might experience along the front or side of you shin bone (tibia). The pain typically develops when you take part in vigorous physical activity, particularly sports that involve running, jogging and walking.
Although shin splints aren’t usually serious, they can stop you from exercising and may get worse if you ignore them.
Shin Splints Symptoms
The primary symptom of shin splints is an aching pain in your lower leg. It may:
- Occur both during and after exercise.
- May seem to get better as you continue to exercise. However, it can also become increasingly sharp and severe.
- Gradually become less painful after exercise.
- Feel tender when touched.
In some extreme cases there might also be mild swelling around the affected area.
Shin Splints Causes
It’s not known for sure the exact causes, but shin splints tend to develop when the muscle and bone tissue in the leg become overworked by repetitive activity. This causes damage to the muscles, tissue and tendons around your shin.
You are more likely to get shin splints if you:
- Change your activity level – this can be increasing the number of days you exercise each week, upping the intensity of your work outs or suddenly running longer distances, to name just a few examples.
- Run on hard or uneven surfaces.
- Have changed the surface you run on – such as from a treadmill to the road.
- Exercise in inappropriate shoes or worn out trainers that fail to properly cushion and support your feet.
- Are overweight.
- Suffer from overpronation (have feet that roll inwards).
- Have strained your muscles – overstretching certain muscles in the front of your leg can damage some of the muscle fibres.
- Have tight calf muscles, weak ankles or a tight Achilles tendon.
- Have a poor running technique.
- Don’t rest enough between exercise sessions and fail to give your body sufficient time to recover.
Other causes of pain in the lower legs include stress fractures, tendon injuries and sprains.
Shin Splints Treatment
Shin splints can usually be treated at home with plenty of rest and a few simple measures that’ll help to relieve the pain:
- Rest – Rest is the most effective way of treating shin splints. The standard recommendation for those suffering with shin splints is to rest from the activity that caused the pain for several weeks (usually at least three weeks).
- Ice – Ice can be helpful for dealing with pain and swelling. Wrap the pack (or bag of frozen peas) in a towel and apply to your shin for 10 – 20 minutes at a time.
- Pain-relief – Over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, can help to relieve the pain.
You don’t have to completely stop exercising while recovering, though. Lower impact activities, such as swimming, cycling, or using the cross-trainer, can help you to maintain fitness levels without putting too much demand on your shins.
If your symptoms don’t improve after numerous weeks of rest, we advise visiting your GP or physiotherapist. They’ll assess your injury and examine your legs to clarify what’s causing the pain (you might be referred for an X-ray to help with diagnosis), and then show you some exercises and recommend a suitable programme of activity to help you recover.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent shin splints from developing. However, there are ways you can reduce your chances:
- Build up your training gradually – when you start an activity for the first time or return to the type of physical activity that caused your shin splints, it needs to be at a lower-level of intensity. Build up the pace and distance gradually.
- Run on a soft, flat surface, such as grass.
- Cross train – avoid overloading your lower legs by alternating your training with low impact sports like swimming and cycling.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Warm up before and cool down after you exercise.
- Make sure your trainers are properly supporting and cushioning your feet. If you’re not sure, visit a specialist running shop – they’ll be able to offer in-depth advice and information.
- Increase your overall strength – incorporate some muscle-building exercises into your training to keep your legs, ankles and hips strong and stable.
Running with Shin Splints
Those who continue to run with shin splints aren’t giving the injured tissue an opportunity to heal. Not only is this going to make the pain worse, it may even lead to a tibial stress fracture. So if you think you have shin splints, then it’s absolutely essential you stop training and rest – otherwise it’s likely to develop into an even more serious injury.
If you’re recovering from shin splints and are looking for a way to ease yourself back into running, take a look at our non-competitive virtual challenges. They’re designed for people of all abilities and can be completed at a pace that suits you, making them ideal for those wanting to start running again but without putting too much stress on their lower legs.