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How to Prevent Shin Splints When Running

Shin splints while running

Shin splints are a very common complaint of runners and hikers.  Anyone who walks or runs a lot is susceptible to developing shin splints.  The pain of shin splints is generally located on the inner side of your shin, or tibia bone.  This is the larger of the two bones in the lower leg.  Shin splints will sometimes be referred to medically as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). 

The cause of shin splints while running is from the repeated pounding on the ground.  Shin splints may certainly occur from engaging in other other activities but they are very frequently associated with running.  The pain and tenderness that is felt with shin splints is caused by an inflammation of the surrounding musculature in the area. 

What causes the pain of shin splints when running is the muscles in the area, not the bone.  Shin splints can often be confused with a stress fracture of the tibia.  It is very important to get an accurate diagnosis of what is causing your pain and understand the difference so that you can decide on the best shin splints treatment.  An accurate diagnosis can usually be determined by your doctor with only a physical examination, but more involved diagnostic techniques such as an x-ray or MRI may be ordered in order to rule out a stress fracture and determine if anything more serious is causing your pain.

Often, an individual will acquire shin splints from running after there has been a sudden increase in activity that the body is not used to.  Examples of such an increase could be increasing your mileage, or increasing the days of the week that you run.  The easiest way to prevent shin splints from running is a gradual increase in activity, allowing your body to acclimate to the activity. 

The symptoms of shin splints will be:

  • Tenderness over a diffused area, a stress fracture would most likely create an area of pain that you can pinpoint
  • Pain may be present at rest in very advanced cases
  • Shin splint pain will usually be initially worse when you start to run and gradually get better, as opposed to a stress fracture in which the pain will increase the longer you run

Shin splints running treatment

Shin splints treatment will depend on the severity of pain that they are causing you.  If pain is severe, you may need to discontinue the aggravating activity for a time and allow the area to rest.  Switching to other, low-impact exercises that use different muscles can be beneficial if you don’t want to give up exercise completely. 

A helpful shin splints remedy during this period of cutting back on the aggravating activity, usually running, consists of following the RICE Protocol in order to help relieve the pain, swelling, and begin the process of healing.  RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.  Sometimes, taking an over the counter medication for inflammation such as an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) will be helpful.

The key to stopping the formation of shin splints when running is prevention.  Shin splint prevention includes:

  • Thoroughly warming up before engaging in strenuous activity
  • Gradual increase in intensity, frequency, time, and distance giving your muscles time to adapt to the increase in activity
  • Wearing properly fitting shoes with adequate arch support
  • Stretching the muscles of the feet and legs frequently
  • Strengthening all muscles from the toes to the hips
  • Switching up your activities every once in a while, so that the same muscles are not being repeatedly overused
  • Managing your weight so as not to place excess stress on the muscles
young runner is suffering from shin splints

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Disclaimer: Please note all medical information contained within this website should never be interpreted as a diagnosis or recommendation of treatment. If a diagnosis is needed, contact Dr. Burke Orthopedics for a personalized consultation. Information shared in testimonials and reviews are specific to that particular patient and may not be representative of the experience of others.