Dealing With Shin Splints

It happens to weekend warriors and experienced runners every year. The weather starts to get warmer and they are feeling energized and motivated to run those miles. But the next day, if the inside of the lower leg hurts, chances are good that it’s shin splints.

What Are Shin Splints?

Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is the medical term for shin splints. It is defined as pain along the tibia (the long bone in the front of your lower leg) that occurs during activity. This pain takes place when too much stress or force is placed on the tibia and surrounding anatomy.

Anytime stress is placed upon the bones of our body, calcium is broken down and then reabsorbed back into our bodies, so that the bones can be built up again. With normal amounts of stress on the bones, you rarely can tell a difference. However, when you begin drastically stressing these bones through sudden increase of exercise, your body can’t keep up with the bones being broken down, and the repair phase is delayed.

Causes and Symptoms

Sometimes it isn’t just starting to exercise too quickly or too soon that can cause this pesky injury. In addition to not increasing your exercise gradually, there are certain biological factors that can make you more likely to get MTSS. Some of these include:

  • Problems with the arch of your foot
  • Muscular imbalances in the lower leg
  • Running on hard and/or inclined running surfaces
  • Inadequate shoes

Those who experience MTSS describe their symptoms as pain along the tibia, pain before, during, and/or after activity, and tenderness to the touch. The pain is usually localized on the inside of the tibia, usually in the middle-third portion.

Treatment

Rest is usually the biggest component in getting rid of this annoying injury. But if you absolutely cannot stop exercising, try icing to combat the inflammation that is taking place in your lower legs.

Compression therapy, such as the use of neoprene sleeves, has also risen in popularity, and can sometimes help with the body’s inflammatory response to the acute injury. Kinesiotape, a tape that is thought to increase blood flow to the area, is another method of treatment that has become more in recent years.

For athletes who have problems biomechanically, more long-term solutions should be used. One of the most successful treatment methods is wearing shock-absorbing insoles, which can help any arch problems you may have in addition to dissipating reaction forces. Running shoes should only be worn for about 300 to 400 miles before being replaced. Runners also should be conscious of the duration, frequency, and intensity of training, and should be completing a gradual running program.

Stretching and strengthening the muscles of the lower leg also can sometimes be helpful. Lastly, consider adding cross-training to your running regimen to decrease the impact on your joints. Some great cross-training activities include:

  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Strength training
  • Yoga
  • Team sports

Prevention

Often, the best answer to this injury is to prevent it in the first place. Make sure to gradually increase the duration, frequency, and intensity of your runs. Consider purchasing quality running shoes and utilizing shock-absorbing insoles if necessary. And most important, let pain be your guide.

A sports medicine physician or physical therapist can provide the best advice on treatment and prevention of shin splints. For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our sports medicine experts, call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).

Contact Us

To schedule an appointment with a physician or other Sports Medicine expert, call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).

UPMC Center for Sports Medicine
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Pittsburgh, PA 15203

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