young woman runner holding leg in pain

Shin splints are a common physical complaint from runners. While they aren’t normally a serious health issue, they can be very painful. They can also cause serious and sometimes permanent damage when left untreated. If you are a runner or hope to get started, it’s important to understand what shin splints are and how to prevent them to the best of your ability.

What Are Shin Splints?

Shin splints occur when an individual experiences pain along the shin bone, also known as the tibia. This large bone is located in the front of your lower leg, and the injury most often occurs due to an increase in activity which then overworks the muscles, tissue, and tendons. This is why shin splints are almost exclusively found in athletes who have intensified their activity or made changes to their fitness routine. Shin splints most commonly happen to runners and other athletes but can also afflict military recruits and others who experience high-intensity activity their bodies are not accustomed to.

What Causes Shin Splints in Runners

Since runners are in a group of people most vulnerable to shin splints, it’s important to know what specifically causes them. As a runner, you are more at risk for shin splints if:

  • You begin a new or different running program
  • You increase the intensity of your runs
  • You increase the duration or frequency of your runs
  • You run on uneven or hilly terrain
  • You have flat feet or high arches

Shin splints can also be caused by incorrect running technique. If your ankles tend to “roll in” or your feet roll toward the outside edge (known as “supination”) when you run, it will force your front leg muscles to work harder to keep you stabilized.

Finally, shin splints can be caused by incorrect footwear. As a runner, it is worth spending the extra money to purchase a shoe that has appropriate support to match the impact of your running sessions. If you are new to running, you can prevent shin splints by easing into your runs. Doing too much too soon is a one-way ticket toward shin splints and other painful injuries.

Common Symptoms of Shin Splints

The most common symptom of shin splints is pain. You will experience tenderness, soreness, or pain along the inner edge of your shinbone, as well as sometimes the immediate surrounding area. You might also notice swelling in your lower leg. Shin splints can be tricky to self-diagnose because the pain can start and stop. However, you will usually notice that the pain stops when the exercise does. This related impact is the best indicator of the presence of shin splints. Do not ignore this correlation. If shin splints continue untreated, the pain will eventually become continuous and can escalate into a stress fracture.

Preventing and Treating Shin Splints

There are a few things you can do to prevent shin splints, including the following:

  • Invest in proper running shoes
  • Run on gentle terrain and avoid hard concrete or steep hills
  • Take things slow and steady if you’re a beginner and build up your endurance
  • Lose weight—higher BMIs are related to shin splints
  • Work with a trainer or an experienced runner to improve your technique

There are a few ways to treat shin splints, and they can almost always be treated at home. The first step is simply to rest. Opt for low-impact forms of exercise in lieu of running for two to three weeks, and then gradually add running back into your normal exercise routine.

Next, use ice packs. Place ice against your shins for no more than 20 minutes every few hours for the first few days you experience the injury. This will reduce swelling and inflammation. You can also take over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen to reduce pain. Some doctors also recommend the use of compression socks or bandages to help with healing.

When You Should Give Us a Call

Unfortunately, sometimes shin splints become painful or damaging enough to warrant a doctor’s care. Even if you are not severely injured, it is still a good idea to consult with a medical specialist that can examine for any undetected damage and provide prevention guidance. The doctors at InStride Carolina Podiatry Group have experience with running injuries, including shin splints. Our team is ready and waiting to help get you back on track as soon as possible. Give us a call when you start to experience shin splints or other running-related injuries.