Shin splints are a very common leg injury that most runners will get at one point or another in their running career. This isn’t something that deters dedicated runners from choosing this as a career. Of course, if runners take the right precautions, they can avoid such such a painful injury. The official definition of shin splints is “pain along the shinbone (tibia) – the large bone at the front of your lower leg.” (MayoClinic) I unfortunately was not able to prevent it and got shin splints right when I started running, didn’t treat or take care of the injury the right way and ended up having a less than stellar first year of running than I would have expected.
When I first started running cross country in high school, I ran very short distances at first, only 2-3 miles per day. But eventually I built up to run 5-6 miles, which is a lot for someone who never even ran one mile before joining cross country. I had actually lasted the whole summer without getting a full on injury, but I do remember icing my shins everyday after practice, so I was at the beginning stages of getting shin splints. The problem that I had once I got shin splints was that I didn’t stop running! It was only my coach’s second year and although he was a really fast runner in high school and college, he did not have enough experience as a coach. You’d think something as bad as shin splints, a coach would know what to do.. The only thing he told me to do was ice everyday, but never told me to stop running.. The shin splints did eventually go away toward the end of the season, but I had endure weeks, maybe even months of shin splints that were so bad, I was limping to and from class. I remember it was so bad that I had trouble putting on pants on in the morning, standing on the leg (with the shin splints) by itself would always cause me to fall over.
There are a couple of reasons why runners will get shin splints:
- Increased mileage (over 10% increase per week)
- New shoes not fit for the current runner
- Worn out shoes without enough tread and support
- Excessive concrete running
- Bad running habits (not stretching)
If you do happen to get shin splints there is the acronym to treat it, RICE (not the food):
- R:Rest – Let the muscles around your shin and leg heal by resting and avoiding as much contact as possible.
- I:Ice – Ice often, but not to the point where it is pointless. Ice your shins 15 minutes at a time to help limit swelling by reducing blood flow to the shins.
- C:Compression – In addition to icing, compression also helps limit swelling of the shins. Wrap an ACE bandage around the shins, or try wearing a pair of compression socks.
- E:Elevation – Elevation also helps reduce swelling and by elevating your legs by resting on some pillows to help reduce blood flow to your legs.
- Do not increase mileage too drastically
- Make sure new shoes fit properly and provide enough support
- Get rid of old shoes as they will cause more damage than anything
- Find dirt trails or grass to run on instead of concrete
- Perform shin stretches to help with recovery:
- Stand on the end of a staircase, with your heels over the steps and slowly allow your body weight to bring your heels down below the step level and hold for 20 seconds.
- Walk on your toes with your heels pointed up and inward for 10 meters, then heels pointed outward.
- Walk on your heels with your toes pointed up and inward for 10 meeters, then toes pointed outward.
Some runners will take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like Motrin, Aleve, Aspirin or Ibuprofen, but too much of it will then act as a COX-2 Inhibitor and actually DELAY bone healing. If none of the previous recommendations help the shins, then the worst-case scenario is a stress fracture. Your last resort is to see a Sports Med MD or doctor and ask for an X-Ray/MRI, which may or may not result in more rest than you would want as a runner.
A final thing to consider if you are stuck without running for a couple of weeks: cross training. swimming, running or workouts in the pool or biking are great alternatives to running. Hopefully though, you can avoid getting shin splints in the first place and these workouts will be more of a supplement to running, rather than an alternative.