Shin Splints for Runners: The Ultimate Guide to Preventing Them

shin splints

Shin splints refers to pain along the shin bone. It is commonly along the inner border of the shinbone or on the outer border along the muscles. It typically occurs with physical activity that involves high or repetitive impact such as running. Military recruits who have to go through Basic Military Training (BMT) have also been noted to be at higher risk of experiencing shin splints.

Symptoms Of Shin Splints

Not sure if you have shin splints? Shin splint sufferers will experience the following symptoms:

  • Dull achy pain at the lower two-third of the shin 
  • Tight achy pain along the muscles on the outer border of shin Pain pattern can vary amongst individuals
  • Pain may occur at the beginning of the run, and disappear into the run. It can also come on only after a certain duration into the run.
  • Mild swelling may occur, shin area can be tender to touch after physical activity for up to several days and resolved with restPain often resumes with return to aggravating activity such as running beyond 30mins 

Why Do Shin Splints Occur?

Shin splints generally occur due to overloading of lower limb structures and this can occur due to the following factors:

Overtraining/Overuse

Shin splints tend to occurs when the muscles and bones in the leg overwork with repetitive and stressful motions beyond the body’s tolerance level This can happen due to changes in training such as running terrain, frequency, duration or distance of runs. 

Biomechanical Issues

Biomechanical issues such as flat feet or high arch can result in poor running gait that contributes to shin splints. When the foot over-pronates, the ability to absorb shock is impaired much like a soft suspension. The muscles along the foot and leg have to work harder causing excessive strains. 

With a high arch, the foot will be like a stiffer suspension meaning impact is taken up by the joints and bones. 

Poor Running Biomechanics

The human body absorbs and dissipates forces through its skeletal and muscular systems. It has a margin of tolerance where the body will compensate well to cope. If this coping mechanism is pushed beyond its limits, injury may happen. When this system has parts that doesn’t function as well, such as  tight calf muscles, weak hips, poor balance, other parts of the system has to compensate and becomes overloaded over time.

Poor Muscle And Joint Flexibility

Muscle tightness and joint stiffness reduces the body’s ability to absorb shock well.  For example when your calf muscles are taut, it transmits forces directly through to the connecting shin bone.

Inappropriate Footwear

Wearing shoes with a lack of support or cushioning while running creates more stresses in the bones and muscles to do more work absorbing impact. 

Environment of your runs

Running on hard and steep surfaces can increase your risk of shin splints. When the running surface does not give, more shock is ‘reflected’ back to the runner.

How To Prevent Shin Splints

Gradual Increase In Training Intensity

Shin splints are largely preventable as they tend to be overtraining and overuse related injuries. Plan out your training programme and make sure that it is a gradual progression in training. It is important not be overly ambitious with your training plan and to slowly pace out your training programme in order to let your body adapt to the increased intensity or frequency of your physical activity.

For instance, if you are currently running a distance of 5km 3 times a week and would like to increase your distance to 10km, you should pace out the increase in distance over time. You can start by increasing your running distance to 6km and letting your body adapt to the increased distance before increasing it to 7km and so forth. Keep in mind that by pacing out your training, your progress will be sustainable and scalable. It is better to progress at a slower speed as compared to overtraining and injuring yourself.

Strength Training

Strength training increases the strength of tendons, muscles, ligaments and even bones. Increased strength muscles and tendons helps to hold the body in proper alignment and protects the bones and joints.  Specific resistive strength training increases the body’s capacity to do more. A common misconception is that running as an exercise is sufficient to strengthen. 

Appropriate Footwear Or Insoles

Wear shock-absorbing insoles or pronation/supination control insoles instead. Seek advice from a physiotherapist if you are unsure of what you need. They will be able to assess your running gait and make appropriate recommendations based on their diagnosis.

Sports Massage

If your calf muscles are tight, do schedule a sports massage session to release the tight muscles. Do try to engage professional sports massage therapists as they will be able to better identify your problem areas and target them.

Change In Running Environment

If you are running on unsuitable terrain (too hard or too steep), do make changes to your running route to minimise the strain on your shin.

Running Biomechanics Assessment

If you’d like to improve on your running gait, you may consult with a physiotherapist for a rehabilitation program which includes stretching your tight muscles, strengthening of muscles to correct muscle imbalance and correction of biomechanical abnormality in your running gait

What To Do If I Already Have A Shin Splint

Do seek medical attention as shin splints, if left untreated, can develop into a stress fracture. It is also important to consult a medical professional if you are experiencing shin pain as shin pain is a symptom to a multitude of other problems such as stress fractures and tendinitis. A medical professional such as a physiotherapist will be able to accurately diagnose the cause for your shin pain and come up with a treatment plan to resolve your shin splint. 

The main goals of physiotherapy treatments for shin splints are to provide pain relief and help you to return to pain‑free activities without a recurrence of the problem. After relieving the pain and inflammation, your physiotherapist will identify and correct functional, gait, and biomechanical overload factors. By getting to the root cause of the shin splints, we are able to ensure that this does not recur. Other components of your treatment plan can include running retraining as a gradual tissue-loading intervention. This can involve strengthening of the adjacent joint muscles and balance training to help you adapt to running surface incongruities.

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