Among running and impact sport participants, shin splints are a very common complaint.
The term ‘shin splints’ is an umbrella term to describe shin pain along the inside or front edges of the shin and are the most common cause of shin pain.
What causes shin splints?
The most common cause is overload or overtraining. Typically, this can happen in a few ways:
- An increase in training volume. This can be the number of km’s run in a day, week, month or more. You might have ran an extra session, added an extra bit of distance to your usual schedule, all of which increases the total volume exposed to your legs contributing to the ‘overload’ that kick starts your symptoms.
- Addition of incline or hill work to your running routine. Hill work, or running inclines and declines puts increased demands on our body above that of just flat road running. Sometimes, if done in amounts that is more than your body can cope with, your body will be pushed above limits than it’s physically able to withstand.
- Incorporated faster or quicker paced running or impact work into your routine than what is normal for you.
- Decreased flexibility at your ankle joint
- Poor running technique (slow cadence, high ‘bounce’, over-striding)
- Poor hip and knee control/stability
- Weakness throughout the lower limb
- Tight calf muscles, hamstrings
- Quick transitions between supportive footwear to minimalist footwear that doesn’t give the body time to adjust
What can I do if I’m starting to get shin splints?
- See your local Physio! Firstly, an expert Physiotherapist can help you get on top of your pain and provide you with the reasons it’s occurred and the modifications and alterations you can make to allow it to resolve. Rest usually helps but then symptoms return on return to activity. There’s bigger things at play that need to be addressed for long term relief and to ensure you rid yourself of shin pain for good! Secondly, ensuring there’s nothing more sinister going on that can lead to extended time on the side lines (think stress fractures), or might need a period of non-weight bearing to resolve (the dreaded moon-boot).
There’s bigger things at play that need to be addressed for long term relief and to ensure you rid yourself of shin pain for good!
2. Strength train. The stronger you can get the muscles in your leg, the more force they can withstand and the less likely you are to develop overload issues such as shin splints. Muscles absorb a huge amount of force during running, so it makes sense to strengthen them to allow them to cope better and to take the force off your bones.
3. Manage your running load. This doesn’t necessarily mean stop running all together. Outside of a stress fracture, bone stress (the start of a stress fracture), or symptoms that come on as soon as you run, it might be that you run on non-consecutive days, or for distances that don’t invoke your shin pain. Sometimes it means a period of cross-training (bike, rower, cross-trainer, swimming) that allow you to maintain your cardio-vascular endurance but don’t continue to put stress through your shin region.
4. Get introspective and reflect! Did you go for a run that was significantly further, quicker, or over more hilly terrain that what you’re used to? Have you made a pretty drastic change in your training volume over the last few weeks? If so, make a note and progress a little slower next time to allow your body to adapt.