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Why do I get Shin Splints?

In this article I am going to discuss shin splints. I decided to explore this subject after getting a question from one of our members who is currently suffering with this condition.

What is Shin Splints

So we need to distinguish between something called MTSS, which is shin splints, and tibial stress fractures.

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome

Shin Splints make up 13% to 17% of all running-related injuries. Shin splints are usually caused by repeated trauma to the connective muscle tissue surrounding the shin

Pain is experienced on the inner part of the shin bone. The pain is usual quite diffuse, there may be some minor swelling. The pain is usually a dull throb that occurs during and after exercise. They are normally caused by doing too much training too fast. So not allowing the body time to adjust and adapt.

Tibial Stress Fractures

This is a more serious problem than shin splints. This is when you get actual fractures of the bone due to repeated compressive or tensile forces. Symptoms are pain on movement, specific tenderness on bone and maybe some swelling. Your doctor might get you to do a single leg hop, although sometimes this can also show positive in someone with shin splints. They may also do a vibration test with a tuning fork to see if this elicits pain. X-rays might be needed to confirm as well. Stress fractures vary in recovery time, so speak to your GP or manual therapist to see how long it may take for you. Usual recovery time is 6-8 weeks but can take longer.

Immediate Actions

If you have been diagnosed with shin splints, the first thing to do is rest! This means initially  stop running, just for a short duration. But this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do anything. Do some other forms of cardio to keep your fitness levels high, such as swimming or cycling. These are great as they don’t put too much stress on you lower legs. You can continue with your weight training if that’s something you do.

The next thing is to start stretching. I advise people to stretch most of the lower limb. A must is a simple calf stretch, there are two of these. The Gastrocnemius stretch with a straight leg and one with a bent leg, known as a soleus stretch. I like the yoga squat or a variation of this. The reason being that it stretches your calf but also tells you how your overall mobility is doing. You should be able to get in this position easily (show demonstration).  This stretch will also make sure you’re stretching two deep muscles in your calf. One study I found, showed people who suffered with shin splints also suffered with stiffness in these muscles.

Saeki J et all -“The results of this study suggest that flexor digitorum longus and tibialis posterior stiffness could be related to MTSS”

The next thing is to get an Osteopath/Physio to identify tight muscles and possible weak areas. They can advise you how to stretch and strengthening exercises. But if nothing else, just have a massage on you calfs, this improves blood flow therefore improving recovery time.  

After a short duration of time typically 5-7 days, depending on how severe you’re symptoms are,  do a test run. Try a fraction of what you would normally do and see how you feel. If you feel fine, then slowly increase your distance. Make sure you give yourself 48-72hrs of rest in between running sessions.

Preventative measures

Now a lot of people will recommend a shoe with a good medial arch support or advise to put an orthotic in your running shoe to help prevent shin splints. I don’t advise this, as sometimes it can overlook other potential problems. Also personally, I don’t like altering your foot mechanics too much or restricting your foot. Normally I find the foot just needs strengthening first. But it may be a good short term solution.

Slowly increase your activity level. Don’t just start running 10km every day. Start with maybe just a few kms a few times a week. Then just slowly add distance, a common metric is around 10% a week. You need to give you body time to adjust.

Increasing your cadence, meaning your step count. A good marker is around 80-90 steps per minute on each foot. This is to help put less load or shock through the feet.

Most important is strengthening your body. Now this doesn’t mean doing loads of reps with weights. A common misconception is that because you run, which is an endurance activity, you need to do loads of reps to match this same type of training. Research has proved this isn’t the case. Compound movements such as squats and deadlift exercises, that are performed 40-70% of your one rep max is ideal. Also making sure your resting in between sets, roughly 2-3mins. Also do exercises that are called plyometrics, these are great at creating functional explosive strength. These can include jumping squats, burpees, box jumps.

I hope you found some of this information useful and you are able to apply some of these aspects to your situation, helping prevent shin splints.

If you have any questions put them in the description below and I will try and answer them. Thanks

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