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Overcoming Shin Splints

November 8th, 2012

Chances are high that you’ve either had shin splints sometime during your running career or know someone who has. “Shin splints” is an umbrella term for several different ailments affecting the lower leg, including tibial stress fractures and compartment syndrome. In this post, we’re focusing on the most common form of shin pain, medial tibial stress syndrome (or MTSS).

What Is MTSS?
An inflammation of the tendons along the shin, MTSS results in pain along the medial side of the lower leg. The pain is most severe in the morning after waking up, or during the beginning of a run. Pressing around the affected area will also result in increased pain.

How’d I Get It?
A number of factors can lead to the onset of MTSS. Many beginners get shin splints due to the lack of muscular acclimation to the stress of repeated impact on hard surfaces. Advanced runners who increase mileage or intensity too quickly are also at risk. Excessive overpronation can contribute to the development of shin splints, as can tight and inflexible lower leg muscles.

Should I Stop Running?
Generally, it is best to stop running or to decrease mileage while experiencing MTSS. If you do continue running, do so with caution – avoid hills and harder surfaces if possible. Using a shin splint-specific compression sleeve such as the Cho-Pat Shin Splint Compression Sleeve will support the inflamed tendons and may provide relief from pain.

For advanced runners experiencing mild shin pain during the beginning of a season, running limited mileage may help the body to acclimate to the stresses of increased training, though if the problem is persistent it is best to allow the injury to heal.

How Can I Treat It?
For an at-home remedy, you can begin by icing the affected area for 10-15 minutes several times a day. To make icing a bit easier and get the added benefit of compression, you may want a product such as the Runner’s Remedy Cold Compression Shin Wrap or the 110% Double-Life Shin/Calf Sleeves.

MTSS also can be treated by stretching the muscles of the lower leg to keep them loose and flexible. Massage can help as well. You can roll out the muscles of the lower legs with products such as the Trigger Point Performance Foot and Lower Leg Kit.

There are a few exercises you can do to strengthen muscles around the shin. From a sitting position, try tracing the alphabet with your big toe. If you have access to resistance bands, loop one end around a stationary object and the other around your foot, then while sitting, repeatedly dorsiflex your foot against the resistance of the band.

How Can I Prevent It From Happening Again?

  • Keep your training consistent. Avoid sudden spikes in mileage or intensity. If increasing mileage, do so by no more than 10% per week.
  • Keep the muscles of the lower leg loose and limber by incorporating regular stretching or massaging routines.
  • If you overpronate, wear a support or motion control shoe that will supply an adequate amount of stability. Replace shoes as they wear out.
  • Get your gait analyzed. You may be overpronating without realizing it. Running Warehouse offers a free gait analysis service – just send us a video of you running on a treadmill to info@runningwarehouse.com.
  • Avoid overstriding, which places additional strain on the lower leg and increases the likelihood of injury.

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  • Shelly

    What if they wont go away? Ive had problems for 2 years. I tried everything imaginable. New shoes, custom orthotics, PT, ART, kinesiotape, calf sleeves. I use foam roller, the stick and ice. I sleep with a splint to keep stretched. I have seen ortho, chiro, sports medicine and podiotrist. No one can help me. I love running, but the pain has become debilitating. Please help.

  • Matt

    Shelly – we’re so sorry to hear about your situation. If you’ve already seen several medical professionals who haven’t be able to find a solution, we’re stumped. We saw a couple insightful comments on our Facebook page under our post on this topic. Those might be worth a look in the off chance that you haven’t thought of some of the suggestions there. We really hope you can find a way to run without having so much shin pain – hang in there!

  • Michael H.

    @Shelly

    Try strength exercises. While compound exercises (more than one joint of the body activated simultaneously) are best for general fitness, isolation exercises (one joint of the body) can be useful for addressing certain specific issues.

    I had success in adding lower-leg isolation strength exercises to get past a problem with exercise-induced compartment syndrome (shin tightness) a couple years ago. After a few weeks of the strength training, the problem disappeared completely, and permanently. I included straight-leg and bent-knee calf raises and front shin/toe raises with a dumbbell.

    Too many runners ignore functional strength training. As a result, the majority of runners get injured each and every year, according to every formal and informal survey I’ve ever read. (Reading any running forum on a regular basis will also confirm this.) Stretching is useful for dealing with and preventing problems with fascia (IT band, plantar fascia), but it won’t correct muscle imbalances and muscle weakness. Only strength training will help with those problems.

    Always warm-up before any strength session. Perhaps 10-20 min. of easy but steady aerobic activity. Any type will do, from slow jogging to the stationary bike or an elliptical. Then start off with very light weight when beginning a new program. Always learn proper technique and form. And use that correct technique for every repetition. Bad form with too much weight will only lead to injury and new muscle imbalances.

    In my first year of running, I was injured almost non-stop. But since I read up on training principles, began to train smarter and incorporated functional strength training (which is NOT the same thing as bodybuilding!), I haven’t had a running injury in over 3 years now.

  • Ed

    Shelley – have you tried nike lunarglides? They quickly helped my shin splints heal up. Seems like a lot of cushioning helped me.

  • Kris

    Hi, try this… sit on floor with legs out. point your toes straight up to ceiling (as much as possible) and hold for 5 minutes. Yes it will cramp but hold on. I did it a few times and the pain disappeared. Magic!!!

  • Jacob

    @Shelly
    Shelly, I have just returned to running since MTSS stopped me in May. Could it be that you haven’t allowed your injury to fully recover before you injure further? My ortho said elliptical exercise only until I fully recovered. I really missed the running over the summer and fall — and am starting again really cautiously.

  • ProGait Custom Orthotics

    A very informative and detailed post, thank you very much for sharing.

  • Kymberly

    Many years ago I suffered from this injury and I learned an exercise from my PT.

    Using your big toe as a “pointer” trace the letters of the alphabet in the air, A – Z, then go from Z – A. You can do this sitting down or standing on one leg. I did this 3 times/day and it helped a great deal.

    Now when I start to feel any kind of discomfort in the front of my shins (usually when I am increasing my overall mileage) I do this exercise daily and in a few days the pain is gone.

    I hope that this coupled with the other exercises and strength training you have learned may help.

    Happy Trails!

  • http://www.whatareshinsplints.net What Are Shin Splints

    I think these exercises are just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been doing them for a month now and find that my post run pain has diminished greatly. Thanks for putting this article together.

  • Jake Baker

    Figure out what caused them and stop doing whatever caused the injury. I suffered from shin splints for 6 years and it wasn’t until I realized this that I was able to cure my shin splints.