Preventing and Treating Shin Splints for Runners

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Injuries are always a concern for runners, no matter how sensible you are with your training. One of the main injury complaints that runners experience is shin splints. This condition makes up between 13 and 17% of all running-related injuries, and is characterized by pain and discomfort along the front or the inside of the shin (tibia). While this condition can strike many runners at inopportune times, this article highlights some of the ways you can minimize risk and prevent or treat this troublesome injury.

What Is Shin Splints?

Shin splints, technically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is a general term describing pain along the inner edge of the shinbone, mainly due to tender or inflamed muscles. There are two main forms; anterior shin splints (pain on the front outside part of the lower leg) and medial shin splints (pain on the inside of the lower leg). While this is common among many athletes, it’s a particular problem for runners, thanks to the high-impact nature of running, and the stress it puts on the lower legs every time you land.

What Causes Shin Splints?

There is no single cause of shin splints, but many contributing factors can be responsible. Runners are at greater risk than most other athletes because of the repetitive nature of this activity, and the stress that the impact puts on your lower legs every time you land. Here are a few things that can also increase the risk of experiencing this injury:

• Ill-Fitting, worn-out or unsuitable shoes
• Running downhill
• Muscle weakness or imbalances
• Lack of flexibility
• Running on hard or uneven surfaces
• Rapidly increased mileage or sudden change to training methods
• Flat feet or rigid arches

How Can it Be Treated?

If you think you’re suffering from shin splints when running, then it’s important you know the best ways to treat it. Of course, pain on its own doesn’t mean the cause is shin splints. In fact, other conditions could be responsible, such as a stress fracture of the tibia itself, which is a much more serious injury. A dull ache and more generalized pain can be a symptom of shin splints, whereas a fracture would cause sharp pain in one particular place. Once you’re sure of your injury, here are some tips for treatment, including the well-known RICE method:

• Rest – it’s an obvious one, but one which runners are notoriously reluctant to adhere to. It’s better to take things easy and recover than to keep running and exacerbate your injury.
• Ice – icing the affected area can help reduce swelling and relieve pain.
• Compression – compression bandages or sports supports can help improve blood flow and speed recovery.
• Elevation – when icing or relaxing, it’s effective to keep your leg elevated, so blood won’t pool in the legs and cause inflammation.
• Stretching – poor flexibility can contribute to shin splints, but stretching your shin can help lengthen the muscle and improve mobility.
• NSAIDs – using Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as Ibuprofen or Aspirin can also help with pain relief and inflammation. Just don’t use them for too long, since they can damage the kidneys if used excessively.

Preventing Shin Splints

While there’s no surefire way to prevent shin splints if you live an active lifestyle, if you don’t want the hassle of treating your injury there are various ways of minimizing the risk factors. Here are some tips:

• Make sure you’re using footwear that fits well and is in good condition
• Avoid running on uneven terrain or very hard surfaces
• Increase mileage and intensity gradually (avoid doing ‘too much too soon’ in training)
• Warm up thoroughly before training, and ensure that you stretch your muscles properly

Stay Smart

Shin splints can be the bane of any runner’s life, but as long as you stay sensible and follow a few simple steps, you can recover quickly from this uncomfortable condition or even prevent it from occurring altogether. Make sure to properly prepare before any runs, and implement gradual rather than sudden changes in your training. If you adhere to these tips, you should be able to stay as healthy as possible on the road or on the track.

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