This is the third in a series of blogs regarding those running inconveniences that may not sideline you as a runner, but if you fail to seek early intervention, may do just that. Today’s blog will cover one of the most common and dreaded running inconveniences—shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome.
Shin splint pain may be experienced by runners, and yes even walkers, of all skill levels. While many of us are familiar with the term, it is not a medical condition per se. Shin splint is a general term for any lower leg discomfort brought on by running and in some instances walking. The pain can be caused from inflammation of the bone, muscle, or connective tissue or a combination of all three. Although beginner runners are more prone to developing shin splint pain because their muscles and connective tissues have not had time to develop, seasoned runners are not immune from developing this condition, especially as they up their mileage or speed.
- Overuse or overtraining - As with many other running injuries, overtraining or overuse is one of the primary causes of shin splint pain. Increasing mileage, speed or doing too much hill work before the body has had time to adapt are major contributors to shin splint pain.
- Improper shoes - Shoes are the most important piece of equipment a runner needs. While many new runners are reluctant to spend the money on running shoes, it is one of the few sports where the equipment is quite inexpensive when compared to other activities such as cycling, golf or tennis. Wearing the wrong shoe for your pronation can increase the likelihood of developing this condition, however being fitted for shoes is not a guarantee that you will never experience shin splint pain.
- Worn out shoes - One of the first clues that it may be time to replace worn out shoes is developing an injury when nothing else has changed in your training. Many runners can log as many as 500 miles before it is time to replace their shoes, however this is just a ballpark figure.
- Running surface - Running repeatedly on hard surfaces, such as concrete, day in and day out leads to greater impact on the joints, bones, muscles and connective tissue of the lower leg.
- Doing too much hill work - It isn’t too unusual to overstride when running down hill which places a greater impact on the lower leg.
- Overstriding - One of the most common mistakes a new runner makes is overstriding, in other words, reaching too far out in front with the leading leg causing the foot to land far ahead of your body's center of gravity.
- Tight calf muscles - Tight calf along with weak shin muscle development can also lead to shin pain.
- Do not feel the need to run every day - As a new runner, it is important to give your muscles, bones and connective tissue time to heal and recover from the stress of running. Adaptation to the sport of running does not occur during the run itself but during the time you are not running. As mentioned earlier, many running injuries are caused by overuse and just taking a little time off can help lessen your injury risk.
- Get fitted for running shoes - Being fitted for running shoes at your local running specialty store helps take the guesswork when it comes to choosing from the hundreds of different models of running shoes on the market today. As mentioned earlier, shoes are not a guarantee that you will not develop shin splints, but wearing the right shoe for your pronation may lessen your risk.
- Vary your running surface - Concrete is one of the hardest surfaces to run on, however changing the terrain to trails, grass and even asphalt can lessen the stress to the lower leg. However, if you are training for a race, do your research as to the running surface the race will take place on. For example, if you are doing most of your training on trails, but the race is on concrete, practice doing some training runs on a concrete running surface.
- Shorten your stride when running downhill or if you feel you are over-striding in general. - Shortening your stride allows for less lower leg impact.
- Raise the incline on the treadmill - Running on a zero grade has been shown to mimic a long downhill slope which can lead to shin splint pain.
- Replace worn out shoes - You may not always get 500 miles on your shoes, but if you have not radically changed your training, such as adding speed work and hill work, then it may be time to get new shoes. Summer temperatures can also speed up the breakdown of the sole of the shoe so keep this in mind should you develop issues and you have not altered your training.
- Stretch your calf muscles - Tight calf muscles can cause shin splints, therefore doing simple Ice shins after your runs - Icing your shins can help relieve discomfort and decrease inflammation.
- Below are a few exercises that are designed to strengthen the muscles and connective tissue of the lower leg. You do not have to do all these exercises, I just gave several options, but you will want to do these to help strengthen the muscles and connective tissue of the lower leg.
The golden rule for running is if you experience any pain during a run, STOP! Never run through pain hoping it will go away. Pain is your body's signal that something is not right. While many runners may experience discomfort during a run, pain is quite different.
As you can see there are numerous causes leading to shin pain, but be aware that if the pain persists or if you experience pain when putting pressure on your tibia (one of two bones that make up the shin) you will want to cease running and see a sports medicine doctor. What many runners think is shin splints may be a more serious condition--a stress fracture. This condition requires medical intervention and should not be ignored.
Have you ever suffered from shin splints, if so what measures did you take to help relieve the pain? Have you performed the exercises mentioned?