What are “shin splints?”
This term refers to a painful condition that is associated with the lower leg. It commonly is found along the anterior and medial, or inside border of the tibia, above the ankle to a few inches below the knee. This pain may come from an inflammation of the periosteum and other surrounding tissues between the bone and muscles of the lower leg. Considered an overuse injury, it commonly is associated with runners who may be overtraining.
A simplified version of what happens when your foot hits the ground shows a foot-strike, then a loading and energy transfer phase, and finally a push off of the with the forefoot. Each foot-strike delivers a shockwave that travels up the leg, and energy must be absorbed by the musculoskeletal system. The harder the surface, the more intense the shockwave. A runner who has high and rigid arches tend to experience more shock and those who have flatter feet may have more muscle fatigue in the leg while running. Both will have susceptibility to shin splints.
Symptoms of shin splints
Symptoms related to this condition are usually associated with overtraining and mechanics. Commonly you may experience pain and tenderness in the lower leg. This pain can be a very sharp, burning sensation that can linger during running and will go away once activity is stopped. In the early stage, there can be a pain present in the beginning of a run and then disappears as the run continues. The pain will often return after exercise or the following morning. As the injury progresses, the athlete will experience more time with the pain, and less time without it. If it is not treated this pain can begin to pinpoint and a stress fracture may occur.
Causes and Treatment
Because there are many potential causes, there are many ways to treat shin splints. If you are experiencing the associated pain, ice can be applied to ease the pain and decrease any inflammation that may exist. Rest will be crucial. Overtraining by running too often and too far is commonly a cause, so evaluate your training plan and decrease your volume and/or allow more rest time between training intervals.
Try a new pair of shoes. The level of cushion in a shoe can affect the absorption of the shock that occurs when your foot hits the ground. If your shoes are well worn, generally more than 4-6 months depending on how rigorous you train, consider a new pair. Have your foot evaluated by a physical therapist or other foot specialist who can evaluate your foot type. You can get shoes or an orthotic insert specifically for your foot type that will provide more support and allow you to train more effectively.
Stretch your calves. Tension and tightness in the calf muscles can lead to more stress on the front of the leg. When you stretch the gastrocnemeus and soleus muscles of the calf, you can alleviate stress on the front of the lower leg musculature. Try using a slant board to get a full stretch of both calf muscles.
The most important thing you can do is evaluate what you have done that allowed the onset of shin splints and make adjustments to your training program. You can effectively train for a long distance race without running on concrete everyday. Cross train with cycling, swimming, resistance training and other elyptical trainers. Overuse injuries require patience. Its tempting to try and resume previous volume and intensity the minute you feel better. Take your time, train smart, and be healthy for your race. You will thank yourself for it on race day.