Health

Sidelined By Shin Pain? Learn What Causes It And How To Cope

Don't let this common pain keep you from running.

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*Courtesy of RunHaven

Searing shin pain. Seems like nearly every runner has struggled with this dreaded ailment at some point.

What causes shin pain, and what can you do about it? We’ve got your answers.

Shin Splints 101

That sore and achy feeling along the side of your shin bone is called “shin splints.” The condition occurs when the muscles and tendons around the tibia, or lower leg bone, become inflamed from the repetitive motion of running. The pain is usually located where the tibia and muscles of the leg attach.

Though shin splints tend to occur when you suddenly increase the duration, intensity or frequency of your runs, having flat feet or high arches or wearing shot running shoes can also cause them. So can running a lot on hard or uneven surfaces.

The pain can occur during or after running, and the shin area may be tender to touch. As the inflammation gets worse, you may also feel pain while walking.

An even bigger ouch

Some experts believe that not reducing your activity when you have shin splints can lead to a more serious injury.

“If not treated, shin splints may eventually result in a stress fracture of the shin bone,” according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.

A stress fracture is a “microcrack” in the bone.

How do you know if you have one? Pain and tenderness can be pinpointed in a specific spot on the tibia. With shin splints, you typically feel pain along a larger area of the lower leg, but it’s possible to have a stress fracture and shin splints at the same time.

X-rays will not always reveal a stress fracture because the break may be too subtle, so doctors sometimes rely on an MRI to make a diagnosis. Women with a history of eating disorders and/or infrequent menstrual cycles have a higher risk for stress fractures.

How to get better

  • Treatments for shin splints and stress fractures require you to stop running and avoid other high-impact activities until you are pain-free.
  • Switch to lower impact exercises, such as elliptical workouts or swimming.
  • Ice your shins several times a day for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Do stretching exercises for your lower leg muscles.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • Resume running with short distances and low intensity and gradually build run length and intensity.

Prevention

“Proper training techniques are the best way to prevent stress fractures,” Dr. Barry Boden, a sports medicine physician at The Orthopaedic Center in Maryland, tells RunHaven.

Don’t increase your weekly mileage too quickly and consider cross-training one or two days a week to give your bones a break from the pounding, he says.

To help prevent shin splints, make sure you get new running shoes every 350 to 500 miles. If your flat feet or high arches are contributing to shin splints, consider orthotics for your running shoes.

Sources: The Mayo Clinic, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, University of Wisconsin Health Sports Medicine Clinic, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

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