10 Preventable Causes of Shin Splints

The 10 Most Common Causes of Shin Splints are Preventable

avoid shin splints
avoid shin splints. (c) Scott Olson / Getty Images

Shin splints describes a variety of generalized pain that occurs along the front of the lower leg (tibia). Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, is considered a cumulative stress injury because it often occurs after repeated stress or jarring of the bones, muscles and joints of the lower leg that become irritated and inflamed.

Some of the most common causes of shin splints are preventable.

By making some minor changes in your training routine, you can prevent or reduce your risk of developing shin splints.

10 Preventable Causes of Shin Splints

  1. Overuse.
    Running is a high impact activity that creates overload, or stress, on the muscles and tissues that connect to the front of the lower leg. The constant pounding of running can lead to the development shin splints over time.
    Also see: Checklist for Running Overuse Injuries
  2. Overtraining.
    Runners who run high miles week after week, without adequate rest days or cross training days, are far more likely to develop shin splints.
  3. Starting a New Running Routine Too Quickly
    Beginning runners are also more likely to develop shin splints. Running is a sport that requires a gradual start to allow the body and muscles to get accustomed to the stresses of running.
  4. Running on Hard Surfaces.
    Running on a hard surface like concrete sidewalks and other pavement increases the stress on the bones and muscles of the lower leg and can increase the risk of shin splints, especially in beginning runners. Running on smooth, soft surfaces, such as trails, running tracks, or dirt roads is far less stressful and may be a good option for at least some of your daily runs.
  1. Increasing Mileage Too Quickly.
    Runners who increase their mileage too quickly are at higher risk for developing shin splints. Even if you are anxious to get fit, it's recommended that you increase your running mileage no more than 10% per week. So if you are running 15 miles in a week, the most you should add the following week is 1.5 miles for a total of 16.5 miles for the week.
  1. Running in Old, Worn Out Running Shoes.
    It's important to replace your running shoes after about 350 to 550 miles. This does depend on your running style, body weight, and the running surface you choose. Lighter runners can get closer to 550 miles in a pair of shoes, but heavy runners break down shoes faster and should start looking for a replacement closer to 350 miles.
  2. Running with a Hidden Stress Fractures.
    Constant pounding the leg bones may actually cause microscopic cracks and fractures in the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula). Rest is needed to repair these cracks. But without adequate recovery, these cracks continue to grow and become a fracture. The result is acute pain and a long recovery.
  3. Not Warming Up Properly.
    Warm-ups help reduce injury risk. This is particularly important for runners. Learn how to warm up properly before running.
  4. Tight Calf Muscles and Weak Shin Muscles.
    The combination of tight calves and weak shins can ultimately lead to pain in the front of the shins. To prevent this combination, stretch the calves and Achilles tendon in addition to strengthening the front of the shins with simple toe taps several times a day.
  1. Too Much Downhill Running.
    Running downhill (or down stairs) can aggravate shin pain and should be limited or added into your training program slowly.

Sources

Carr K, Sevetson E, Aukerman D. Clinical inquiries. How can you help athletes prevent and treat shin splints? Journal of Family Practice. 2008;57:406-408.

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Shin Splints Patient Information, Dec. 30, 2008.

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