Shin splints are arguably the most common running problem/injury runners of all levels face. Whether you’re just starting our you’re an elite runner training for the Olympics, chances are you’ve probably had shin splints at one point or another. Over the past week I have received three separate e-mails about shin splints and myself took 5 days off of running because of the horrible splits!
So what causes shin splints and, more importantly, how can we fix them?
First, we need to understand what shin splints are. When I was in middle school and high school shin splints use to come on like clockwork every spring during the first week of track practice. Why? Because I was doing too much too quickly and my body needed to get used to it (but have been something about not training during the winter…darn coaches were right). Shin splints are a catch-all term used for pain located in our lower legs. When the pain is located on the front outside part of the leg they are called anterior shin splints and when they are on the inside of the leg they are medial shin splints.Essentially, shin splints are a shorter work for medial tibial stress syndrome. Key word: stress. You are stressing your body! Too much, too soon!
Here are a few more causes:
- Over worn shoes (check my previous post on when to get a new pair)
- Over compensating one leg over the other
- Lack of stretching
- Running on hard surfaces (your legs are taking a pounding)
So why does it feel like tiny electrocuting spider webs are hitting my shins every time I try to move? Truth be told, sports medicine doctors have a variety of theories as to what goes on. Small tears in muscles along your tibia are pulled off of your bone, tiny micro fractures along your tibia, inflammation of the muscles. It varies! It happens! Once they’ve started there is no stopping but there is one thing we can do (or not do): DO NOT RUN THROUGH THE PAIN! Think of it this way…
If you have shin splits, there is some type (even if small) injury to your bone and/or muscle tissue. Forcing yourself to run through that can make that work. Your shins are just like any bone. If a baseball pitcher has small but painful tears in his shoulder, should he continue to pitch? No! And neither should you!
So what are you going to do? You’re going to treat them! Here’s how:
ICE: Place ice bags on your shins several times a day while you elevate your legs. I did this one leg at a time while at work or both legs at the same time while on the couch at home. The ice is instant relief and helps with the inflammation.
*Extra Tip: freeze water in a paper cup, peel back the paper and roll the exposed ice cup along your shins.
COMPRESSION: Rock a pair of compression socks (CEP or any other brand) because feel great and help with recovery. There’s no real “science” here to prove that they help your shin splints, but I certainly felt a difference. They are pictures above with my sweet candy candy PJ’s…and yes…my compression socks are pink (who is surprised?)!
REST (sort of): Take a couple of days off of running. Recently I took 5 days off of running because of shin splints and spend my time in the pool or on the bike instead. It does not mean you have to quite yoru cardio routine, it just means you need to decrease the impact.
STRETCH: There are a few ways to stretch your shins out (including stretching out your calf and Achilles tendon). My favorite is to kneel on a carpeted floor with your legs and feet together – feet/toes pointed back. Slowly sit back onto your calves/heels and push your ankles into the floor until you feel the stretch along the front of your shins.
KT Tape: I’ve yet to try out KT tape…but I am intrigued! While researching, I came across a few helpful tips from our friends over at KT Tape that you may want to check out. The photos are helpful as KT Tape can be tricky business!
And before you return to your training program remember:
- Check your shoes to make sure they are not too worn out
- Run on smoothed surfaces (think trail versus pavement running)
- Invest in a pair of compression socks/sleeves
Again – I am not doctor. If you are experiencing excruciating pain (more so than your average nagging shin splint) please consult a health care professional.