Shin Splints

How to tackle shin splints


Footwear specialists Simply Feet have put together a summary of how best to avoid and treat shin splints, so you can keep running for longer

Shin splints is the general term used for the pain you feel at the front of your leg between the foot and knee. It most often occurs during or after running or playing strenuous sports such as basketball, tennis and squash. As an injury, it’s hard to define, difficult to predict and takes a considerable time to heal. However, one thing is for certain: the pain will stop you in your tracks.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints affect the tibia – the bone that runs down the inner part of the shin. It is recognisable at first as a dull ache, like a muscle pain but in the wrong location. Later, if exercise is continued or resumed, it may become a strong sharp pain. Some people describe the pain as feeling as if the shin has fractured. This is not usually the case, but running on inflamed tissue can lead to bone damage.

While there are many possible causes for this pain, the most frequent form of shin splints is known as Medial Tibia Stress Syndrome (MTSS). MTSS occurs because the layer of connective tissue covering the shin bone becomes inflamed. This inflammation becomes more pronounced and causes further damage and pain every time strenuous activity is continued. It is therefore essential that when pain occurs, you stop exercising.

Why do shin splints occur?

Shin splints are caused by muscle and tissue damage. Novice runners are more likely to experience it for a number of reasons. They may be running on pavements or other hard surfaces, be wearing ill fitting or old trainers, be overweight, have weak muscles and a tight Achilles’ tendon or have tight calf muscles from not warming up correctly. Likewise, experienced runners may suffer from shin splints if they suddenly increase their mileage. This is often the case when someone decides to run a marathon or mini marathon.

Runners with certain physical attributes are also more likely to suffer from shin splints. Undiagnosed and uncompensated cases of flat feet and over pronation (when the foot rolls excessively inwards or outwards) put excessive weight and pressure on the tibia and the shin bone, which can lead to inflammation.

Recovering from shin splints

The treatment for shin splints is predominantly rest and recuperation. In the first two days after the injury, icing the shin area with a cold pack every couple of hours is particularly helpful. You can also take an anti inflammatory like ibuprofen or paracetamol.

In order for the injury to heal, you must stop doing the activity that caused it. However, runners typically only recognise the injury has completely healed after five weeks. This is especially problematic for enthusiastic runners, as fitness levels drop significantly after a two week break. For this reason, many runners stop running for just two weeks – just long enough for a decrease in pain but not so long as to undo all their hard work. During this two week break, they continue to do other low impact exercises such as cycling or swimming. Aqua aerobics is a particularly effective way of staying fit during an injury.

Preventing shin splints

There are a number of things you can do to prevent shin splints, such as limiting your running distance and choosing your running surface wisely. It is also vitally important that a runner learns to stretch properly before and after running. However, the most important factor is choosing the right footwear for you. Your running shoe should offer the correct form of cushioning and support for your weight and running style. If you have over pronation or flat feet, you may need to have orthotics fitted. These rigid shoe inserts help to compensate for faults in the step and will realign your posture when running. This will help reduce shin splints but also may help other aches and pains like lower back pain too.

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