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FitnessHealthThe physio: How to avoid shin splints (and what to do if you get them)

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to avoid some injuries, you can’t run away from the problem.
Jennifer DodgeSeptember 24, 201837 min
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shin splints

It is not uncommon for a lot of beginner runners to feel pain along the front of their shins. This annoying pain is called shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), and it often comes from doing too much, too soon – which we can all be guilty of. This is the reason why a lot of beginner runners we see tend to “run” into this problem. 

What are shin splints?

Although shin splints are common in runners, the condition is also found in people who engage across a wide array of sports activities, including soccer, CrossFit, basketball, netball or tennis. Shin splints/MTSS refers to a “nagging” or dull ache that runs along the inner shin – with potential swelling. Although often not serious, shin splints can lead to more serious conditions, such as stress fractures, if not treated properly.

What causes shin splints

  • Running downhill. When you run downhill, your foot impacts the ground in a plantar-flexed position (toes pointed down), which puts additional stress on the muscles on the front of your shin, rather than distributing weight evenly through your foot.
  • Any sudden increase in training frequency, duration or intensity. Anytime you break the 10 percent rule (training routines should only increase/toughen by 10 percent a week), there is a risk of injury, including shin splints.
  • Old shoes. As your running shoes wear down, they don’t properly absorb shock and the arch support tends to flatten out. Shoe problems combined with flat feet, poor running mechanics and overuse aggravate the inflamed tissues of the lower leg.
  • Exercising on hard or inclined surfaces. This places stress on the leg, which can cause inflammation.
  • Previous history of shin splints. Athletes who have had shin splints are more likely to have a recurring problem with them.
  • Failure to rehabilitate a previous bout of shin splints. Returning to normal training too soon is a common problem among all athletes and can easily cause a setback.
  • Flat feet, rigid arches and over-pronation (ankles rolling inward on impact). These are examples of mechanical malfunctions that could cause pressure to be distributed unevenly on the lower legs.

How to avoid shin splints

Make sure you progress the frequency, duration and intensity of your activities gradually. The impact from running creates a lot of repeated stress on our body, and our muscles and bones require time to adapt and rebuild to become stronger. When runners increase their training intensity too quickly, it can cause the muscle and bone to be mechanically overstressed leading to injury and inflammation. Shin splints happen over a period of time when constant pounding and stress are placed on the bones, muscles, and joints of the lower leg. The result is irritation and inflammation, both of which cause pain.

What should you do for shin splints?

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to avoid some injuries, you can’t run away from the problem. There are various treatment options that can be prescribed by your therapist in addition to manual therapy, including:

• Ice
• Stretching
• Strengthening exercises for the legs
• Graded running program

How long does it take shin splints to heal?

Shin splints is a tricky condition that may linger for weeks or months. Be patient, because it can take anywhere between a couple of weeks up to six months to heal. And if you have pain, stop the activity — do not ignore the symptoms. The earlier you receive treatment, the faster your shin splints heal.

Feature photo by Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

Jennifer Dodge

Jennifer Dodge works at BounceBack Physiotherapy, Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. After graduating with a Bachelor's degree in physiotherapy from the University of Newcastle in Australia, she spent more than four years working with various professional sporting teams, Olympians and in sports medicine clinics across Sydney. In 2015, Jennifer moved to Abu Dhabi, where she managed the Shoulder and Upper Limb clinic at Burjeel Hospital. Jennifer specializes in sports physiotherapy using various techniques such as dry needling, structural integration, exercise and manual therapy. Jennifer continues to work internationally with professional sports teams in the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA as well as treating top CrossFit athletes here in Abu Dhabi.

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