Dealing with shin splints as a runner

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Seasoned runners understand that occasional aches and pains happen during training. Whether you’re a marathon runner, triathlete or a weekend warrior who loves crossing the finish line of 5 and 10Ks, you have, at one time or another, felt some discomfort in your hips, knees or shins.

If runner’s begin to experience sore muscles and pain down the front of their legs, there’s a chance they could have shin splints.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints refer to pain that happens along the front of the leg and the shinbone (tibia). Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints are often for one of two reasons:

  • The first happens when changes are made to a training routine.
  • A workout program is intensified.

When either of these happen, the bones, tendons and muscles can become overworked.

Other common causes of shin splits are:

  • Not stretching enough and allowing for proper recovery
  • Overpronation, which happens when weight is transferred incorrectly and your feet roll inward so you’re putting extra pressure on the side of your feet
  • Running in worn-out shoes
  • Always running in the same direction
  • Additionally, it’s typical for one leg to experience more pain than the other, and it’s often on the runner’s dominant side, so if you’re right handed, your right shin might hurt worse than your left

Risk factors that can make you more susceptible to shin splints include:

  • If you are a runner, especially a new one, starting a running program
  • If you run on various terrain that are often uneven (like hills)
  • You have high arches or flat feet

The good news is that shin splints are easily treatable and not a cause for serious concern. However, it’s important to allow yourself time to recover, because if shin splints are left untreated, they can lead to stress fractures, which is an incomplete crack in the shin bone

Treating shin splints

There are a variety of ways to take care of shin splints and many of them are easy remedies.

Rest: When you notice that your shins are starting to hurt and running is becoming a painful challenge, you need to take a break and allow yourself to rest. Trying to push through the pain will mostly likely results in further damage, and you’ll need to stop running in the long run, so give yourself some time off. This will help the pain recede and any swelling will have time to go down.

Ice: It can be helpful to apply ice to your shins to reduce swelling and briefly numb the area, which will provide pain relief. You can apply ice packs for about 20 minutes a few times a day for a four to five days until your shins are feeling better. As soon as you begin to feel pain in your shins, you should immediately apply ice, and you should continue with this treatment for a few days following the initial injury, as it will help decrease inflammation. When shin splints first become a problem, apply ice packs two to three times a day in the morning afternoon and evening. When you resume running, it’s also a good idea to ice your shins following your session to limit the swelling and pain that may occur.

Cross train: While you’re on a break from running, you can still cross train with swimming or weight lifting and continue to engage in physical activity. It may also be beneficial to strengthen the muscles of your legs in order to become a better runner. Muscles can begin to weaken quickly when you stop working them, so you don’t want to go from regular exercise to none at all. Even if you can’t run, you can perform lower body strength exercises to keep your quads, hamstrings and calves strong. You can also opt for lower impact cardio options like running on an elliptical or riding a stationary bike to keep your stamina and endurance going while you give yourself a break from pounding the pavement.

Self massage: As part of your recovery, you can give your lower extremities a massage with a portable massager. You can work the muscles on the inside and outside of your shin as well as your calves and feet (especially for plantar fasciitis relief) to loosen up tightness, provide relaxation and work out knots.

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