Shin Splints - Cause, Cure and Prevention

Understand what causes shin splints, what to do when you get them and how to prevent them from happening again.

One minute you’re smashing miles, the next, crippled by a sharp pain shooting up your shins. Shin Splints are pains in the shins or up the front of the lower legs.

Their cause? In short, doing too much, too soon.

They result from tired or inflexible calf muscles putting too much stress on tendons, which become strained and torn. Other causes can include running on roads, stiff running trainers or running too regularly.

The best way to prevent them is to follow a sensible training programme that progresses gradually and incorporates rest days. However, there are also steps that you can take before, during and after your run to help minimise your risk of shin splints.

Invest in a decent pair of trainers

Shoes with extra cushioning and support may help prevent shin pain but everyone has different needs from a trainer, so seek advice from an expert running shop and try out several different pairs before you buy.

Warm up

Although your warm-up is unlikely to prevent shin splints – if you push your body too far, too soon, something will get irritated regardless – it will help increase circulation, which will, in turn loosen your muscles and prepare them for your run. Meaning less chance of injury.

Stretch

It may seem like a boring waste of time but stretching pre and post workout is a key player in preventing shin splints. Tight calf muscles can increase your risk of anterior shin splints, while a tight Achilles can lead to medial shin splints.

Warm up stretches should be dynamic (move repeatedly in and out of the stretch) whilst your post run stretches should be static (hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds)

How to prevent shin splints during your run

Choose your terrain

Swap your concrete surface for something softer like a park or playing field to reduce your likelihood of shin splints. If there’s an obvious camber to the road, then make sure you run out and back on the same side.

Go steady

Sprinting may feel good but if you’re body isn’t ready to be pushed to its max, it’s going to find a way of slowing you down. Well hello shin splints. 'Factor in a recovery week, where you reduce your mileage, every fourth week and if you are new to running, or recovering from an injury, build up more slowly and include other types of exercise such as swimming and cycling in your exercise programme.

Watch your distance

Don’t increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. Support your running with training to strengthen the calf, quads and glutes, to improve the way the leg manages load.

Don't forget technique

There's more to running than just placing one foot in front of the other, making sure you're doing it properly can help to prevent shin splints. Improving your running technique will help to reduce the load going through the leg - overloading being one of the main causes of shin splints.

How to prevent shin splints after your run

Cool down

Prevent a build-up of toxic substances and lactic acid post run by cooling down afterward. Removing these from the body will reduce your likelihood of experiencing muscular pain and stiffness. Finish the session with a walk rather than just stopping.

Stretch (again)

You did them at the start but stretching out troublesome calf muscles is equally as important after your run, too. This time you're going to hold the stretches for 15- 30 seconds

Strengthen

Strengthen the muscles in your legs and feet to assist your running technique and prevent shin splints.

· Walking on your heels – this will help strengthen the muscles down the front of your shin bone.

· Calf raises – do these first, both feet at the same time, then standing on each foot separately.

· Try to pick up a pen with your toes to strengthen your foot arches.

· Trace the alphabet on the floor with your toes.

How to treat shin splints

What to do when disaster strikes? Follow the RIP of injury management:

Rest

Call time on your exercise plans – temporarily. Shin splints symptoms need TLC so put your feet up and take it easy.

Ice

Ease any inflammation by applying ice packs to the shin splints area for 10 minutes or so every few hours.

Pain relief

Ibuprofen will help to ease discomfort if required and will also help to manage inflammation. BUT be aware that inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process and please don't dull the pain and continue exercising. Your body is trying to tell you something!

If taking time out from your exercise programme is not an option, at least switch your standard high-impact runs for lower intensity sessions. Then, when the pain has eased, return to your runs gradually.

And if the pain doesn’t improve, your shin splint could in fact be a more serious condition such as a stress fracture, strain or tendon injury so seek medical advice.

Remember a regular sports massage will help to lengthen tight muscles and keep you in tip-top condition. Prevention is always better than cure. A monthly maintenance massage can ensure tension spots are dealt with before you start to notice them.

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