What Are They?
Shin splints, the catch-all term for lower leg pain that occurs below the knee either on the front outside part of the leg (anterior shin splints) or the inside of the leg (medial or posterior shin splints), are the bane of many runners, tennis players, and even dancers. They often plague beginning runners who do not build their mileage gradually enough or seasoned runners who abruptly change their workout regimen, suddenly adding too much mileage for example, or switching from running on flat surfaces to hills.
The pain may begin as a dull aching sensation after running. The aching may become more intense, even during walking, if ignored. Tender areas are often felt as one or more small bumps along either side of the shinbone.
- Tightness in the posterior muscles, which propel the body forward, places additional strain on the muscles in the front part of the lower leg which work to lift the foot upward and also prepare the foot to strike the running surface.
- Hard surface running on worn or improper shoes increases the stress on the anterior leg muscles. Softer surfaces and shoe cushioning materials absorb more shock, which means less is transferred to the shins.
- The muscles of the foot and leg overwork in an attempt to stabilize the pronated foot and the repeated stress can cause the muscles to tear where they attach to the tibia.
- Rapid increase of speed or distance.
- Excessive stress placed on one leg or one hip from running on cambered roads or always running in the same direction on a track.
- Ice immediately after running.
- Aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
- Reduce mileage and intensity for 7 to 10 days; never run through pain.
- Avoid hills and hard running surfaces.
- Orthotics to support the inside of the foot and reduce the amount of pronation.
- Gentle stretching of the posterior leg and thigh muscles.
- Taping the shins will often alleviate the pain dramatically. This is a useful strategy for aiding the healing process but should not be relied upon as a crutch to continue training. Use it if you can’t walk at work, for example, but don’t use it so that you can get in another long run on injured legs.