Shin splints are terms used to refer to exercise-induced pain which occurs on the inner parts of the shin bone. It results from stress in the tendons usually because of tightness or inflexibility of the calf muscles. Runners or fitness enthusiasts are often likely to sustain shin splints injuries.
What is Shin Splints?
Shin splints occurs as a result of sudden or repeated stress on the leg muscles. It’s characterized by an annoying pain along the tibia. Usually pain is felt when you press the front part of the leg especially during and after running.
Studies have shown that beginner runners or running after a long break increases your chances of sustaining shin splints injuries. The reason for this is that your muscles tend to be stretched in a manner they have not been used to.
Can You Run with Shin Splints?
In its initial stages shin splints may go unnoticeable. The pain becomes pronounced after sometime especially if you continue with your running routine. So, the question is, can you run with Shin splints?
A simple answer is NO – Progressing with your running activity when you have shin splints means that the tendon will not have enough time to heal. Continued strain on the tendon may eventually lead to tibial fracture which makes the pain even worse.
Causes of Shin Splints in Runners
1. Poor Running Techniques
Poor running techniques such as overstriding results in heightened landing force. This increases the landing impact, the bulk of which is borne by your knees and shins. Prolonged stress on your shins due to excessive landing impacts may result to recurring shin splints.
The shin bone may also be overstressed by sudden increase in your training load which may eventually lead to shin splints. This is a common experience among beginners or runners who step back into training after a long break.
2. Incorrect Running Shoes
Wearing worn-out shoes or shoes with little underfoot cushion exposes your shins to excessive impacts when running. Such shoes lack the ability to absorb impact shocks whenever your feet hit the ground.
Hard surfaces such as asphalt, pavements and concrete are more likely to cause shin splints if your running shoes are worn-out or have inadequate underfoot cushioning.
3. Lack of Stability
Poor running gait impacts negatively on your stability especially if you exhibit overpronation. Overpronation usually occurs in flat-footed individuals but it can be minimised by incorporating adequate arch support in your shoes.
Lack of stability on your hips can also lead to increased stress on your shins. Weakness in your glutes is what causes instability in the hips
4. Other Factors
Other factors that may be lead to shin splints include:
- Stress fractures
- Tight Calf Muscles
- Tibial bending due to overloading
- Weak calf muscles
- Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (CECS)
How to Prevent Shin Splints
As you have seen, shin splints develops mostly as a results of simple errors we make during exercise especially when running. That means, it is possible to prevent shin splints by adhering to running techniques that minimise the risk of overusing your shins.
Here are some helpful techniques for minimising the risk of sustaining shin splints injuries.
1. Wear Appropriate Running Shoes
Pronation type is definitely the most ideal consideration for determining the correct running shoes for your foot shape. You can determine your pronation type by performing a simple wet test at home using water and paper. Alternatively, you can have your gait analysed by a podiatrist or a specialist at your nearest running store.
Choosing running shoes that correspond to your pronation type helps in averting injuries including shin splints.
2. Barefoot Running
Barefoot running has in the recent times been embraced as an effective way encouraging appropriate landing so that impacts are evenly distributed. That means, impacts are no longer concentrated at the heel area, a condition which usually causes compartment syndrome in runners.
With even distribution of impacts, there’ll be little strain on our shin bone.
3. Cross training
Alternate running with low-impact cross training workouts to avoid straining your shins.
4. Gradual Workouts
Building up your strength and fitness in gradual intervals helps in minimizing possible excessive tendon stretching.
If you suspect you have shin splints, it’s advisable to discuss your symptoms with your doctor in time. If you go on with your training, shin splints could advance to tibial stress fracture, an injury which might take about six weeks to heal.
With information from your medical history and symptoms, your doctor will carry a thorough physical examination to establish whether you have shin splints. He/she may perform an X-ray, bone scan or MRI to rule out stress fracture.
Usually, shin splints will go away if given the right conditions for recovery. Your doctor might recommend the following interventions:
Overuse in your shins is what has led to the pain you’re experiencing. Thus, having some rest for a couple of weeks helps in decreasing strain on the affected area.
Rest can be alternated with low impact cross training such as elliptical training, swimming and so on.
A cold therapy with an ice pack helps in reducing pain and inflammation by limiting blood flow to the affected tendon. When doing cold therapy, ensure you wrap the ice pack with a cloth to avoid damaging your skin.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used during recovery to enhance pain relieve and reduce inflammation. You can use aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen.
Correct Shoes or Orthotics
If collapsed or flattened foot arches is the cause of shin splints, then you need to buy running shoes that can adequately support your arches. Alternatively, you can incorporate arch support orthotics in you running shoes.
See the video below on how to treat shin splints at home.
The most important thing to note it that shin splints usually occur as a result of overuse of the shin bone and the connecting tendon. Thus, shin splints injuries can be prevented and remedied by easing the load on these areas of the leg.
With that in mind, it’s possible to run with minimal or no instances of shin splints injuries.