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Runners and Shin Splints

Runners and Shin Splints

posted at October 18, 2013

By Mary O’Bryan, PT, DPT – Results Physiotherapy

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Fall is finally upon us, which means many people have been hitting the track, roads and trails all summer. Whether you are brand new to running or an experienced runner, increased intensity, mileage or terrain can take its toll on your legs. As mileage increases, so does the stress on our bones, muscles and ligaments and our body must learn to adapt to this higher level of stress. During this adaptation period, many runners experience the sometimes-debilitating pain associated with shin splints.

What causes shin splints?

The muscles on the front portion of our lower legs are typically weak and challenged by the repetitive stress that running places on our body. Couple that with the chronically tight calves that the majority of runners have and you’ve got the perfect atmosphere for shin splints to develop. This muscle imbalance causes increased strain on the attachment of the anterior shin muscles to the tibia, or shin bone. Shin splints occur when the strain is too much for the muscles to bear and the inflammation process occurs.

Runners suffering from shin splints will experience pain and discomfort in a diffuse area usually along the bottom 1/3 of their tibia. Depending on the stage of injury, the pain may occur at the start of the run only, or it may last throughout the run and into the rest of the day during activities like walking or stair climbing. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to address them early to avoid prolonged strain to your tibia, which can lead to more serious conditions such as stress fractures.

How can you avoid shin splints?
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Be sure to keep your running shoes in good condition. Faulty foot mechanics may predispose a runner to shin splints, so it is important to get professionally fitted for running shoes and be sure to replace them every 300-400 miles.

Avoid running on very hard surfaces, like pavement or the sidewalk. Try a few runs in the grass just a few steps off your normal sidewalk or road to reduce the impact and force transferred through your legs with each step. This is very beneficial early on in your training plan to slowly increase the workload demand on your ankle and lower legs.

If you notice shin pain while you run, do a 5-10 ice massage over the painful area to calm the inflammation immediately following every run.

Make sure you are properly and frequently stretching your calves to maintain their flexibility. The runner’s calf stretch at the wall is a great stretch you can do anywhere, anytime to address calf tightness.

If shin splints are not improving….

Be cautious, however, if you are doing all of these things to calm your shin splints and the pain is not improving or has become more constant, this may indicate a possible stress fracture or stress reaction in your tibia.

Before shin splints slow you down at your next race, check in with a licensed physical therapist, who specializes in manual, or “hands on”, therapy. At Results Physiotherapy, we can analyze every aspect of your running gait, any joint or soft tissue restrictions around your foot and ankle, as well as the biomechanics of your foot to determine what is predisposing you to shin splints in the first place. Our therapists will develop an individualized plan to address your specific needs to get you back to the starting line pain free and ready to run your best race yet.

Most health insurance companies now allow patients to refer themselves to physical therapy without a physician’s order. For more information about the services provided at Results Physiotherapy or a list of clinics near you, please visit www.resultsphysiotherapy.com or call 800-888-0531.

If you would like individual questions answered by a senior clinician visit: www.resultsphysiotherapy.com/ask-a-physiotherapist.

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