Shin splints are a common running injury that many people experience when getting back into training after taking a break. Shin splints are also common when runners quickly increase mileage or run on surfaces they are not accustomed to. Continuing to run through this injury may lead to heightened pain or increase the likelihood of acquiring a more serious condition. It is important to understand how to identify this injury and to take steps that will ensure optimal recovery.
How do I know I have Shin Splints?
Shin splints are more technically known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). The pain caused by shin splints, or MTSS, is from excessive stress placed on the muscles of the lower leg. This stress leads to pulling on the Tibia (lower bone) of the leg, causing irritation to the bone and connective tissues of the leg. These stresses are often due to weak or tight muscles of the calf and shin – and that, paired with repeated use – sparks irritation, causing pain.
Generally pain is felt in the lower inside part of the leg 1-5 inches above the ankle, or 5-7 centimeters lower than the knee on the outside part of the calf. The pain is usually not localized to one specific area. If the pain is specific to one point and does not subside with rest, it is important to seek a medical evaluation from a physical therapist or physician for the possibility of a stress fracture.
Actions to take.
With suspected shin splints, the first step is to allow your body to rest. Take a few days off from running, apply ice to the irritated area in order to reduce inflammation, and begin gentle stretches for the calf muscles. As the pain diminishes it is beneficial to continue stretching and begin incorporating lower leg strengthening exercises, such as heel raises. Once pain subsides and strength is gained, you may begin a gradual return to running; go shorter distances and run on softer surfaces (such as grass or cinder trails).
These are the basic tenets of recovery; however, for the greatest gains, and to reduce the possibility of re-injury, it may be beneficial to seek treatment from a physical therapist. Physical therapists will be able to address all strength or flexibility limitations, and can also help you learn about other possible contributing factors.