How to Deal With Shin Splints

shin-splintsOf all of the injuries that runners face, shin splints are perhaps the most common and the most mysterious. Very few runners that have been running for any frame of time haven’t experienced these at some point and, while the cause can vary, the pain is no fun for anyone.

The fact remains, however, that shin splints can both be prevented and cured if you understand what is going on and what you can do. Trust me, they aren’t fun, I know, but there is hope, especially if you are a beginning runner.

What Are Shin Splints?

This is really an umbrella term for a large number of physiological problems. Shin splints are a problem that occurs in your lower leg and is officially known as medial tibial syndrome.

For the most mild of cases, it shows itself in only a bit of inflammation in the area around the tibia, primarily in the connective tissues that link the muscles to the bone. There are more severe cases, though, where pain levels are extreme and the tissues actually tear away from the tibia, which results in a long, slow, and painful recovery process.

For that reason, it is important that you understand how to treat them and how to prevent shin splints from happening in the first place.

What Causes Them?

Shin splints are caused by a variety of things, but primarily it comes from two different problems that runners have. Repetitive stress on your lower legs and overuse of those same muscle groups are problematic for most people.

-Too Much Impact On Your Heel

Heel striking is a popular way of running, but it is dangerous, unhealthy, and inefficient. The repetitive strain that this places on people can irritate all of your tissues and injure your lower legs all around, especially your shins. Once that strain causes inflammation, you’ll start to have shin splint problems and be sidelined from your training.

The impact isn’t limited to heel striking, however, and things like running in old shoes, treadmill running, uneven paths, downhill running, or running on things like now can all cause shin splints.

-Overuse

Many people don’t run on their heels, but still find a way to overuse the muscles in their lower legs and feet. This is especially a problem in beginning runners.

Running too far too fast will cause a lot of problems, but shin splints are one of the most common results of this. After a couple of long runs, you’ll have a pain growing in your shins and can’t figure out why. Now you know. That, in combination with the tendency to push off of your toes, will cause serious problems if you don’t do something about it.

The toe push is a big problem for runners of any experience level, though. Pushing off of your toes will place a lot of strain on your lower legs, your shins in particular. The weight of your body can be too much for muscles like those to handle and they’ll give out eventually, even if you aren’t aware of the problem.

The muscles in your shin are fairly small and weak, even in the strongest people. Any overuse puts you and risk and the injuries can add up and quickly put you out of commission.

How Do You Prevent Shin Splints?

Preventing shin splints is as simple as knowing what your body can handle and how you can run properly.

Doing too much too soon is a very common issue and will almost always result in an injury. Take it slow. Running long distances at the beginning won’t help you improve faster, it will only delay your long term goals and keep you feeling pain.

The same goes for running with proper form. You might think that you have run this far on your own and been ok, or are running the way that your body naturally does, but the truth of the matter is that almost every runner could use help with their technique. Proper technique, involving ball striking without pushing, is perfect and will help dramatically reduce your chances of having shin splints.

How Can You Treat Shin Splints?

Once a shin splint actually happens, you’ll have to work on relieving it without sacrificing any of your performance. Rest and medical attention are both involved in some cases, but keep these things in mind:

Don’t try to work through it

“Walking it off” can help with certain kinds of pain, but not here. If you have a shooting pain through your shin, you shouldn’t attempt to run. Sometimes the pain can be mild and simply annoying, but that is when the problem can become even worse and lead to very serious problems that you otherwise would not have had to deal with. Stress fractures and more can be avoided if you simply don’t overdo it when you are already injured.

Apply Ice

Icing your shins can help greatly reduce the swelling and, if you want a serious solution, freeze water in a paper cup and use it to roll and massage the tissue. Do that for ten minutes a few times a day and you’ll help a lot.

Tape It Up

Taping up your shins can help to compress all of the tissues and stop the muscles from moving around too much. The less they move the less pain you will be in.

-Take Two Aspirin and Call No One In The Morning If It’s Better

Things like ibuprofen and aspirin can relieve a lot of the pain that you experience from shin splints. They will reduce the swelling and actually help the problem, while also relieving pain. Things like tylenol can help reduce pain, but it won’t do much to actually reduce the inflammation.

-Give Your Shins A Rest

Take a rest from running for a week or two. In order to make sure that you are still getting into better shape, you can do other exercises that simply don’t work the shin in the same way. Swimming, stationary bike riding, or other cardio workouts will still improve your endurance, while giving your lower legs a chance to rest.

At the end of the day, the best thing that you can do is prevent them from happening in the first place. Work on your form, pay attention to your body, and know what to do when the worst happens. Running is a lifelong endeavor, so why take a chance and injure yourself?

This article was written for RunnersGoal.com by James S., a guest author.