Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is one of the most common injuries among beginner runners, and up to thirty percent of those new to running will experience some form of this injury.
For a long time shin splints were thought to be the result of a soft tissue injury, but in fact, it is a bone injury that affects the front of the lower legs.
During a run, the movement and impact from striking the ground causes the shin bone to slightly bend. This causes stress along the front of lower leg and shin bone, but like muscles, with adequate rest and recover, bones get stronger and rebuild after this stress.
For everyone new to running, increasing mileage too soon without allowing the lower leg bones time to rest and recover, will leave the shins overstressed, and likely lead to lower leg pain.
More experienced runners who have gradually allowed their body to adjust to the impact of running, are less likely to have issues.
If the pain in the lower leg is sharp and specifically in one spot, it might not be shin splints at all, but a stress fracture. A good way to determine this yourself is to run your fingers along your shin lightly, and if you can find a specific spot of pain, it’s a sign of a stress fracture. At this point consult your doctor or physio to arrange a scan and correctly diagnose the injury.
While running too many miles too soon is a major contributor to lower leg pain, it isn’t the only cause. Poor running form, weak calf, core and hip muscles can also lead to the shin bone becoming overstressed.
What you can do to beat shin splints
If you succumb to shin splints or lower leg pain, it’s important to not run through the pain. Rest and ice may be adequate if the pain is minimal, but do consult your doctor or physio if the pain is more severe than this.
In a lot of cases with runners, there may also be an underlying reason as to why your shins are overstressed, such as weak calf, core or hip muscles.
So, as important as rest is to allow your bones and muscles to recover, it is essential to address the underlying reason your lower legs are overstressed.
Strength and conditioning exercises that engage the calf muscles, hips and core, will all help to support the leg bones against the stresses of running.
These exercises don’t have to involve heavy weights, and simple exercises such as calf raises, hip rotation clamshells, hip thrusts and plank variations are more than enough to adequately strengthen these important body areas involved in running.