The human body is incredibly resilient. It can withstand the everyday abuse and pressures that we put on it for an extraordinary amount of time. Running is no exception. And, if you are a runner, chances are that you have had experience with planter fascitis, IT band syndrome, or those dreaded shin splints.
Fortunately, I have been pretty lucky to not have any nagging injuries while running. Sure, I’ll get an achy hip or a tight muscle once in a while, but nothing that lasts. It just takes a few minutes for the kinks to workout and they all but disappear.
However, earlier this spring I believe I had my first experience with shin splints. They are not fun, friends… I could even feel it while walking! Of course, I did some research and found out some interesting facts about shin splints.
Factoid One: Shin Splints can be caused by a number of factors and affect over 3 million people a year in the US alone.
Factoid Two: You can experience shin splints in just one leg (usually the dominant leg).
Factoid Three: There are a few easy (EASY!) solutions to treating shin splints.
What Are Shin Splints?
In short, they are inflammation along the tibia — or “shin” bone. That inflammation can either be on the inside (or posterior) of the tibia, or the outside (anterior).
I experienced mine on the upper anterior part of my left leg. Typically, shin splints are only experienced on one side of the body — and usually the dominant side.
The pain is felt when the inflamed tissue is in motion. And commonly, the pain is described as a dull ache. I even experienced minor discomfort when I walked, especially when I went up steps.
Most people do experience more discomfort in the morning, when the tissue is stiff from little activity overnight. Flexing the foot toward the shin also causes more pain.
But what causes the Shin Splints??
What Causes Shin Splints?
Shin splints are caused by a number of factors.
- Increased speed, distance, or duration of activity can be a main culprit of this common injury. In other words, pushing too much, too quickly.
It’s great that you might be motivated to push yourself further, but it’s not worth the injury. Gradually work to increase your distance while running. A good rule of thumb is increasing your mileage by 10% each week. So, for example, if you run 10 miles a week, you would be safe to increase your weekly mileage by 1 mile.
2. Old, worn out shoes are another sneaky cause of shin splints. When shoes lose their supportive nature it subjects our bodies (especially our legs!) to more stress and trauma. Time to go shoe shopping is roughly between 300 – 500 miles on a pair of sneakers.
People with flat feet or shoes that are not correctly fitted may also suffer from shin splints more frequently. And although you can’t be expected to change your foot shape, having a correct fitting shoe and/or insert may help!
3. The running surface that you are training on can also lead to this annoying issue. If you most frequently run on a treadmill and then suddenly pound the pavement outside for a few miles, your body may make you pay for it.
The same is true if you normally run on flat, even surfaces and decide to tackle a trail run. The uneven aspect of trails and hills may cause stress on your legs that your body is not adjusted for. Hill workouts do wonders for your strength, endurance, and overall running ability, but please ease into them!
Interestingly enough, while researching shin splints, it was even mentioned that running in the same direction on a track day in and day out can lead to shin splints. Heading in the same direction day after day puts excessive stress on the same leg, leading to inflammation.
4. Improper stretching is another common cause of shin splints. All of us are guilty of wanting to get our workouts in and move along with the day but we MUST stretch! It is so important to treat our muscles right after a tough workout.
All of these can cause shin splints, but in most cases, a combination of these conditions are to blame.
Prevention Starts With You!
So, how do you prevent those annoying little pains in the shin? Two little words that runners don’t like to hear…
Maybe that means you need to back off how many miles you are logging for a week or two. It might mean that you need to ease up your pace. Or it could mean that you need to shorten your workouts.
Either way, you need to stop putting the “pedal to the medal” and allow your body to recover. Pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something is wrong. It maybe unhappy that you are pushing so hard so fast.
If you ignore the pain, the actual problem may just get worse.
Next, keep track of your shoes and replace every 300-500 miles. Tracking your mileage not only can be a big motivation but it can also be beneficial to your body.
You may take excellent care of your shoes but that doesn’t keep them from ever wearing out. With every run, your shoes create a “wear pattern” that may lead to altered running form. Altered running form can result in injuries and, you guessed it, shin splints.
Suddenly and dramatically changing your running surface can also lead to shin splints. Running 5-6 miles on a treadmill is VERY different than 5-6 miles on a road, or trail, or even a track. The impact on your muscles and joints varies with each surface.
If you are a treadmill lover (or have to trudge through the winter months mostly indoors) then you need to gradually increase your mileage outside. Getting your body accustomed to the different terrain will help prevent injuries.
Properly warming up and stretching after runs will also help prevent injuries, including shin splits. Stretching helps with flexibility, which in turn aids your body with adapting and coping with the stress and impact running can have on it.
So, You Still Got Shin Splints?
So you still ended up with shin splints? Or perhaps you have been struggling with them for a while… Fear not! Relief is on the way!
Rest: Although not always what people want to do, it’s definitely a beneficial thing to do when you are suffering from any running injury.
Rest allows your body to recuperate and reduce the inflammation that is causing the pain. It’s not always the easiest thing to do but it is vitally important to not cause further injury and speed up recovery.
Ice: Reducing inflammation helps reduce pain. Ice reduces inflammation by causing vasoconstriction (meaning reducing blood flow to the affected area). Ice also helps with pain relief by reducing the swelling and the nerve impulses in the area. You can also try an ice bath or a cool swimming pool for more inflammation reduction.
Compression: The overall theme of pain relief is to reduce swelling — and compression is another way to help limit swelling. Whether you wrap with an ACE bandage, use KT tape for added support, or wear compression socks, gentle wrapping of the injury can help prevent additional swelling.
(On a personal note, I have fallen in love with these Pro Compression Socks. These socks are AMAZINGLY comfortable! It’s like a continuous hug for your legs — and who doesn’t love hugs!) *This link is an affiliate link meaning I receive compensation if you purchase using the link. It does not however, increase the price of the product for you. And as always, all opinions are all my own!* If you have never tried compression socks during or after a run, I strongly recommend it. They feel wonderful!
Elevation: Get your legs in the air and wave them like you just don’t care! (At least like you don’t care what you look like.) Even though it may feel silly, elevating your legs above your heart will help return blood in your legs to your heart. In turn, the blood does not pool in your legs and cannot cause more swelling.
*Note: I am not a physician. I am providing information that I have found useful but it is not an exhaustive list. If you are experiencing intense, lingering pain please seek medical attention.*
Ultimately, to avoid shin splints, you must gradually increase your running time, distance, and intensity. And if you still end up with shin splints, you need to evaluate what might be causing them to occur.
My experience with shin splints was resolved by getting a fresh pair of running shoes and by taking a few short, easy runs outside before transitioning from the treadmill to longer outdoor runs.
There are way too many exciting sights to see in the running world to be sidelined due to injury. Take it slow, enjoy your progress, and happy running!
- Have you ever experienced a running injury and what was your recovery experience?
- What piece of running gear is a necessity for you?
- How do you prevent injury in your training?