What are shin splints?
Your shinbone, also known as the tibia, runs from your knee down to your ankle. Pain in the shinbone is often called shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome.
Affecting many different types of athletes including football players, runners and tennis players, shin splints are a common sporting injury.
Often shin splints can involve pain and inflammation of the muscles, tendons and the thin layer of tissue that covers the shinbone.
Causes of shin splints
Shin splints usually develop over time when there is constant and repetitive stress placed on the shinbone and the connective tissues that attach your muscles to your bones.
Causes of shin splints include:
- Significantly increasing your training or activity levels over short period of time. Too much, too soon!
- Engaging in sports that involve running and jumping on hard surfaces (e.g. basketball and tennis).
- Improper or inadequate warm-up.
- Downhill running. Running downhill cause your foot to plant with your toe pointing slightly downwards, which can significantly increase the load that the muscles of the shin must handle.
- Old, worn-out shoes. As shoes take on more miles they slowly lose their cushioning and support causing more impact to be absorbed by the lower leg.
- History of shin splints. If you have developed shin splints in the past you are more likely to develop them again. More reason to ensure that you properly take care of your shins splints the first time around.
- Your ankle rolling inwards upon planting with the ground. This action is also known as pronation and can cause an uneven distribution of forces upon your lower leg when your foot contacts the ground.
- Muscular imbalance between the muscles in the front (anterior) and back (posterior) of the lower leg.
Symptoms of shin splints
The symptoms of shin splints usually occur gradually. Common symptoms of shin splints may include:
- Swelling, pain and tenderness of the front of your lower leg (typically the inner border of your shin).
- Pain at the start of exercise that may lessen as the activity continues.
- Pain when toes and foot are pointed downwards.
Treatment of shin splints
- Rest – allow the injury some time to heal. Low load activities such as swimming, biking or using the elliptical trainer are options to keep you fit while you recover. Pool running is a great option for runners.
- Ice – Ice the shin with an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas to help reduce inflammation. Try to ice 4-5 timer per day for a duration of 10-15 minutes each session. Wrapping a thin towel around the ice or bag of frozen peas will help protect the skin.
- Compression – compression with an elastic bandage or a compression sleeve can also help reduce inflammation.
- Elevation – when resting or sleeping, try to keep your injured leg elevated.
- Shoes – replace old worn-out shoes.
- Orthotics – consult with your doctor, physiotherapist or podiatrist about orthotics to help alleviate possible overpronation (rolled inward ankle when planting with the ground).
It is important to seek medical attention if the symptoms persist more than a week. Your physician may conduct an x-ray to rule out a stress fracture or other conditions.
Prevention and strengthening exercises
- Ensure your shoes are not worn out and replace them when needed. For runners, this is approximately 300-500 miles depending on your on your body weight, the surface you run on and your running style.
- Massage – self massage with The Stick or a tennis ball works well.
- Calf stretch – both in the neutral position (i.e. the back foot in straight) and with the back foot slightly rotated inward. See the picture below.
- Calf raises – try 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions to start. See the picture below.
- Towel crunch – in barefeet and seated in a chair with the legs bent, use the toes of one foot to crunch up a towel towards your body. Perform 10 crunches and then go in reverse (un-crunching the towel) for 10 more ‘un-crunches’.
- Ankle dorsiflexion with a thera-band or a tool like the AFX – pull your toes towards you using only your ankle. Perform 10-12 repetitions and then switch to your other leg. See the video below.
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