Shin Splints

Whether you're running after a soccer ball, jogging around the neighborhood park or training for a marathon, you're at risk of running-related injuries. One of the most common running injuries is shin splints.

What is it?

People sometimes mistakenly use the term shin splints to refer to a wider array of lower leg problems. The term technically refers to a specific problem that causes pain along your shinbone (tibia) — the large bone in the front of your lower leg. The pain is the result of an overload on your tibia and the connective tissues that attach your muscles to your tibia. The medical term for this condition is medial tibial stress syndrome.

Shin splints are common among runners. But shin splints can also be caused by other activities that involve repeated impact on your feet on hard surfaces, including basketball, aerobic dancing and tennis.

Most of the time, you can treat shin splints with self-care steps and rest. And you can help prevent shin splints from recurring by stretching, using shoe inserts and modifying your exercise routine. The risk of shin splints is no reason to give up your morning jog or afternoon aerobics class.

What causes it?

Pain along the inside of the shin or tibial bone is commonly the result of overdoing athletic activities, engaging in sports with a lot of starts and stops, or running down hills. Shin splints may also be the result of:

  • Training mistakes, such as the “terrible toos” — training too hard, too fast or for too long.
  • Running on a slanted or tilted surface.
  • Running in worn-out footwear.

If you have flat arches, your feet may have a tendency to roll too far inward (overpronate) when running, which can contribute to shin splints.

What are the symptoms?

If you have shin splints, you may notice:

  • Tenderness, soreness or pain along the inner part of your lower leg.
  • Mild swelling.

At first, the pain may stop when you stop running or exercising. Over time, though, you may feel continuous pain in the affected shins.

Are there any natural therapies?

In most cases, you can treat shin splints with self-care steps. If you have recurrent injuries that seem to be caused by flatfeet or other problems with the mechanics of your feet, your doctor may prescribe custom-made arch supports (orthotic devices). You place these devices inside your athletic shoes like foot pads. They help prevent your arches from collapsing and the force from the ground from concentrating in your shins.

What else can I do?

Take these steps to help prevent injury to your shins:

  • Wear proper footwear. Choose a shoe that suits your sport — and your foot. If you're a runner, buy new shoes about every 400 miles.
  • Consider shoe inserts. If you have flatfeet, you may benefit from wearing an arch support to help cushion and disperse the impact on your legs.
  • Lessen the impact. Cross-train with a sport that places less impact on your shins, such as swimming, walking or riding a bicycle.
  • Start smart. If you're starting a new athletic activity, start slowly and add time and intensity gradually. If you're a new runner, start with a pace that meets the “talk test” — if you can't carry on a conversation with your running buddy, you're moving too fast.
  • Add strengthening and stability training to your workout. Stronger muscles can better withstand the impact of athletic activities, and stability training may help minimize forces being transmitted up your lower leg. Strengthen your lower leg muscles with calf raises and leg presses. Strengthen your ankles with exercises using a resistance band or tube. For stability training, try one-leg standing. Place your feet at shoulder width and extend your arms straight in front of you. Then lift one of your legs and bend it back. Hold for about five seconds and repeat several times, and then switch legs.

Did you know?

If you have shin splints, one of the most effective things you can do is the R.I.C.E. methods for self-care – rest, ice, compression, elevation.