Almost every runner, at some point in their athletic life, experiences shin splints.  If you haven’t, you’re extremely lucky, but if you have, you know what it’s like to feel pain shoot up the front of your leg with every stride.  Perhaps more important, you know how important it is to keep shin splints away.

The Anatomy of a Shin Splint

The term shin splints refers to generalized pain that occurs at the front of the leg at the shin (aka the tibia). Since the term shin splints is usually all-encompassing it can refer to a variety of injuries (from bone trauma that results in stress fractures) to swollen muscles that put stress on the fascia.

Usually when people are talking about shin splints they’re referring to overuse issues that causes the muscles to fatigue and put pressure on the fascia.  This creates a pain that often starts a couple inches above the ankle and then tapers off higher up the shin.

In its very early stages, runners often describe a pain that fades after the runner has warmed up for their run.  As the injury increases though, shin splints can nag at you until running is extremely painful with each step.

Causes and Treatment

One of the most common causes of shin splints is training in excess without allowing yourself enough time for recovery.  At their purest form, shin splints are an overuse injury, and overuse often means that you’ve jumped into a running routine too quickly rather than building up to what you’re asking of your body physically.

Often times, the best treatment for shin splints is rest.  Fortunately for you, this doesn’t mean that you have to stagnate in your house with your legs up.  Instead you can cycle, swim, or try other cross training activities that keep you in shape without adding to the stress on your existing injury.  More important than anything though, is to give your shins a rest from all the pounding.  If you’re moving back into a workout routine, make sure to move gradually and listen to your body.

If you’re looking to speed up your recovery time and prevent injuries from occurring in the future, stretch and strengthen your calf muscles.  The soleus stretch is great for achieving this, as are calf raises and other exercises.

Other forms of recovery include icing 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, taking anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen, and wrapping your leg in a four inch Ace bandage to reduce the inflammation and ease the pain.  Also, limit your initial recovery running to soft and flat surfaces.  Also, be sure to warm up before running and take it easy to start.  Most experts suggest you jump back into your routine at 50% of what you were doing before and then increase gradually.

Another important part of staying free of shin splints is to have the right running shoes.  Running shoes are specially designed to provide padding that absorbs shock and nurtures proper motion transfer.  Buying the right shoe for you you specifically is crucial to maximizing the effectiveness of your shoes.  While its sometimes tempting to get what the person running next to you might have, it’s more important to take a look at your biomechanics and buy the right shoe for you.

While general biomechanics are important to everyone all the time, it’s especially applicable for people who have either flat feet or high, rigid arches.  People with flat feet tend to experience fatigue in the muscles that make up the arches of their feet while high and rigid arches often cause a more significant pounding shock.  Either way, you’ll experience more stress on the shins.  If you need help getting started finding the right shoes for your stride and foot type, check out our Running Shoes 101.

Worn out shoes can also cause shin splints.  If you haven’t replaced your shoes in more than 300 miles they’re probably down for the count.  When you go out to invest in your new pair of shoes, remember that something with soft and stable cushioning will help absorb some of the shock you’re experiencing while reducing the amount of stress you’re putting on your shins.

All said and done, running doesn’t require much equipment.  Investing in the right running shoes will help you in the long run, as will paying mind to your body overall and being smart about how you push your body.