What Is Shin Splints?
Shin splints refers to pain experienced along the shins, where the pain is typically felt around the middle to lower third of the length of the inside shin bone (known as the tibia). Medically referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome, this form of shin pain often occurs in individuals who have changed, or intensified their training routines without time for the tissues to adapt. Overloading muscles, tendons and bone tissue as a result of an increase, or alteration in activity is a recipe for the onset of shin splints a condition probably most commonly experienced among the running population, particularly in individuals new to running. Theories regarding shin splints pain is that the pain is the result of inflammation of the muscle, or small tears in the muscle at its origin on the bone. Other ideas are that the pain has its origin from inflammation of the periosteum (the thin sheath of tissue that wraps around bone), or a combination of muscle and bone sources.
Who Is Most At Risk Of Getting Shin Splints?
Medial tibial stress syndrome is a condition typically prevalent in the active population and there can be a number of factors at work in the onset of shin splints in an athlete including:
- Runners, athletes involved in sports with a high running load are at greater risk of developing shin pain, in particular individuals beginning a running program for the first time are prone to developing shin splints. Not surprisingly when the gyms were closed during covid-19 lockdowns in Sydney and many active people swapped their regular gym routine for a running dominant training regime, there was a spike in many physiotherapists seeing patients suffering shin pain.
- Athletes involved in sports played on hard surfaces, specifically sports involving many sudden stops and starts (tennis and basketball are both good examples of this type of stress).
- Shins splints is common reportedly in military recruits and military training due to the footwear and very high training demands of any military recruit.
- Foot biomechanics, individuals with flat feet, high arches and specifically overpronating feet (could be described as feet that roll inwards when load is placed on them) are at risk of getting shin splints.
- Athletes who avoid stretching may be at a greater risk of developing shin pain, tightness in the muscles of the lower limbs and restricted ankle range may place extra strain around the shins.
How To Avoid Getting Shin Pain Running
Preventing shin splints associated with running can be helped by addressing the following:
- Get fitted for appropriate footwear for your foot type, for shoes that suits your foot type, sporting choices and activity loads. As well getting fitted for the right shoe it is also important to make sure you replace your shoes regularly before they start showing significant signs of wear.
- For runners rotating shoes between runs is a good idea. Having a couple of pairs of different aged shoes can be beneficial, it ensures your feet and legs aren’t experiencing the exact same stress run after run. This variation in footwear means tissues can avoid overload through repetition and alternating shoes between runs also gives the shoes time for the midsole cushioning to “rebound” back to normal after each run. Shoes can take up to 24 hours for their stability and cushioning to restore following a run, swapping shoes after each run can allow additional time for this to occur making sure the shoes are at their best next time you hit the road.
- Commit to achieving good strength in the stabilising muscles of your hips and lower limbs. Good strength and postural control can help with running alignment and reduce injury and any likelihood of getting shin pain.
- Foot and ankle postural control and biomechanics are important, having your feet assessed by a podiatrist including your foot and ankle range and positioning.
- Having a sports podiatrist assess your running can be very beneficial especially for someone new to running. Common running variations such as over striding can alter forces through the ankles, shins and knees. Running tips from a skilled podiatrist can help avoid simple technique issues that may over load the legs causing injury.
- Working to maintain, or improve if necessary mobility in your ankles and calf muscles specifically, but also your lower limbs and hips may reduce the likelihood of developing shin pain.
- When increasing training always do so gradually. When changing the load, frequency, intensity, duration, surface… as a rule it is best to increase at no more than 10% per week, this way it helps give your body time to adapt to the changes.
- Stop training as soon as you feel any pain in you shins be it during, or after exercise. And if you experience pain then seek advice from a physiotherapist, podiatrist, or similarly skilled practitioner.
Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on Shin Splints And The Novice Runner should consult his or her general practitioner, podiatrist, physiotherapist or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.