Causes, Prevention, and Treatment of Shin Splints

How to Prevent and Treat Shin Splints

Are shin splints making your runs uncomfortable or, worse, keeping you sidelined from running?  Here are the symptoms and causes of shin splints, as well as tips on how to prevent and treat them.

Symptoms: Shin splints are very common among beginning runners because they may do too much too soon. With anterior shin splints, you'll feel pain on the outside if your lower leg along the shin. Posterior shin splints, damage to the muscles on the inside of the lower leg, cause pain in the soft tissue behind the bone.

Cause: While shin splints are usually caused by tight calf muscles and weak shin muscles, other factors may have aggravated the injury. Running on hard surfaces can put added strain on your front leg muscles. You may also pronate or supinate when you run, causing your front leg muscles to work harder to keep your feet stabilized. This biomechanical flaw may be made worse by a shoe with poor support. Another common cause is simply overtraining.

Treatment: For shin splints, there are a number of steps you can take to speed recovery. First, to reduce the pain, use an ice pack on your lower legs after you run. Keep ice on for ten to fifteen minutes every 4 to 6 hours, and make sure your foot is elevated.

Cut back on your running and consider taking a few days off altogether. The important thing is not to run through the pain. You'll only make it worse. Keep in mind that shin splints, like most running injuries, are basically an overuse injury.

Listen to your body and back off when you begin to feel pain. With all that extra downtime, you'll have plenty of opportunities to stretch your calves and strengthen your lower leg muscles. Be particularly careful not to overstretch; ease into your stretches gradually.

Wearing the wrong shoes may also lead to shin splints, so check your shoes to see if you might need more stability or cushioning.

Get advice from an expert at a running specialty store to make sure you're wearing the right running shoes for your foot and gait. Also, try inserting over-the-counter heel lifts so that your calves don't have to stretch as far. Finally, make sure that you have good running form. If you lean forward too much when you run, you may be pulling too hard on your calf muscles.

If you try these suggestions, and your pain persists, see an orthopedist about the possibility of a stress fracture.

Prevention: If you experience shin pain when running, it may be because of weak anterior tibialis muscles, which are on the front side of your lower leg. This muscle is responsible for flexing the foot upward and, because it's often underdeveloped in non-runners, you may experience shin pain if you're new to running or you increase your distance too quickly. Do these toe raises and heel raises a few times a week to develop the muscle and prevent shin splints.

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