Shin splints are a common complaint among new exercisers and can be very painful for some. While you should expect initial soreness in the first few weeks of a training program, shin splints are avoidable and are sometimes the precursor to more serious lower leg pain, like stress fractures.
We're here to explain what shin splints are, why they occur and how you can treat and prevent them. Let us know your questions in the comments!
What Are Shin Splints
"Shin splints'' is a term commonly used to refer to pain in the front (anterior) lower leg, often resulting from strenuous or extended high-impact activity. The term "shin splint" actually refers to traction periostitis or inflammation of the soft tissue that connects the periosteum of the bone with the muscle fibers in your lower leg.
As a teenager, long-distance running became my gateway drug into the world of fitness enthusiasm. As a poor kid, my running options were basically limited to city streets and questionable running shoes, and I never had any formal run training. The only sport I ever played in school was football for one year. Needless to say, I was not prioritizing my own holistic healing, and my tibialis anterior and connective tissues took quite a bit of abuse over the next ten years. I got shin splints all the time.
That's when I decided to do some research.
Why Do They Happen, and Why Are They So Painful?!
Shin splints result from micro-tears and inflammation after high-impact exercises or medium to low impact exercises done for an extended period. Multi-mile ruck marches with a loaded rucksack often gave me shin splints as a young soldier. So did the street and sidewalk running I was doing on my own time.
The inflammation and pain that you feel due to these microtears alert you that you've done some minor damage to the body. Sometimes, a client has both inflammations in the connective tissue and soreness of the tibialis anterior, the muscle that runs along the front of your shins. Tibial stress syndrome and minor stress fractures can result from not treating shin splint pain.
Military recruits and athletes who perform repetitive high-impact sports and training are at higher risk for experiencing overuse injuries, shin splint symptoms, and other stress reactions.
Repetitive exercise in unsupportive shoes or the incorrect type of athletic shoes can cause chronic shin splints or other muscular shin pain.
How Can I Alleviate The Pain Of Shin Splints?
Common treatment methods that can help alleviate the pain of shin splints are with common, focused cooldown stretches. Cooldown might include using a foam roller, if you have one of the right size and density and can easily roll the surface without putting pressure on the tibia, or exercise bands that help shorten and lengthen the tibia anterior through ankle flexion and extension.
Severe pain may require a physical exam to rule out some other overuse or stress injury before applying treatment for shin splints. In the event of severe pain without an apparent break or fracture, use the RICE method to help alleviate pain and swelling. This includes resting, treating the affected area with ice (or, if inconvenient, a bag of frozen vegetables), using compression from compression sleeves, compression socks, or an ace bandage, and elevating the feet above the heart.
How Can I Prevent This From Happening Again?
Your athletic trainer can perform specific diagnostic tests to understand whether your run form contributes to your shin splints. Some heel-striking runners have chronic shin splint pain even when wearing cushioned running shoes on a rubber (or soft) track.
Pain from shin splints is common among avid runners and even the most seasoned runners. Adding cross-training and low-impact activities to your training schedule can help prevent his common overuse injury and give adequate time between high-impact training sessions. Alternative, non-impact exercises can help the runner cross-train and recover between high-impact workouts.
Replace outworn footwear with correct running shoes for your foot shape, and include foot orthotics if your podiatrist or shoe sizing expert recommends you do so. A compression stocking or compression socks helps some people recover more quickly and claim to help aid circulation in the affected areas.