Everything You Need to Know About Shin Splints

Pete Hunt

If there’s one complaint runners often share, it’s shin splints. Painful and inconvenient, this common condition can create a serious hurdle in any training schedule. But what exactly are shin splints, and how can they be prevented? Here, The Alignment Studio’s sports enthusiast Conor Brennan shares his insights and expert advice so you can get back in your runners sooner.

What are shin splints?

Shin Splints (or Medial Tibial Traction Periostitis to give it its medical name) is a colloquial term used to describe pain along the inside edges of the shin bone. A patient with shin splints will complain of diffuse pain along the medial (inside) border of the shin, which usually decreases when warming up. The pain gradually recurs after exercise and is worse the following morning. If left untreated the pain can be unremitting even after warning up, and at its worst can potentially lead to stress fractures of the tibia.

What causes shin splints?

A number of factors may contribute to the increased stress and traction on the muscles on the inside of the tibia. These include:
– poor biomechanics, i.e. over pronation (flat feet), or over supination (raised arches)
– training errors, i.e. when increasing intensity, distance, duration of training too quickly
– poor shoe design or shoes which are not correct for your foot type
– old shoes which no longer offer good support
– training on hard or uneven surfaces
– muscle dysfunction and fatigue
– decreased ankle and foot mobility

Are they only a problem for runners?

Shin Splints do occur more commonly in runners, but they can happen to anyone involved in sports that require a lot of running and jumping. They are also quite prevalent in dancers and the military. At The Alignment Studio, we often sees patients who have recently started a pre-season program which involves an large increase in their running volume.

How can you prevent shin splints?

There are a few ways you can reduce your chances of developing shin splints. These include:
– always wearing good trainers which fit your feet when running/exercising/playing sports
– easing into any running/training program by building up your running/training program by 15-20% each week
– not running on consecutive days when commencing a running program
– consulting your physiotherapist for a running/musculoskeletal assessment and advice on preventative strengthening exercises for running or your specific sport

And how do you treat them?

The first step in the treatment of shin splints is simple: stop running! It is very important to stop running in the short term (2-6 weeks) to stop the main aggravating activity and allow the condition to settle. RICE and anti-inflammatory medications with help ease the inflammation and pain and allow the body a chance to heal.

Can’t live without your workout? Off-leg training such as swimming, cycling, rowing can be done alternatively for cardio training that will not cause the condition to flare up.

A musculoskeletal assessment/running assessment will also help to assess your biomechanics and determine the potential causes of the injury. Changing your running shoes/trainers may be necessary if they don’t provide you with adequate support. Your physio may also recommend orthotics for your shoes.

Your physio will be able to guide you through a lower limb stability program and gait/running re-training to strengthen the area and reduce the risk of recurrence. The pain and symptoms will ease relatively quickly with rest from running/sports. It will take up to 4-6 weeks to build up ankle strength and stability and work on proprioception and the biomechanics. After this a gradual return to running and sports needs to be carefully monitored to build up your strength and endurance.

Keen to get in shape this summer with running? Book a biomechanical assessment with Conor today!