Help me, I have Shin Splints!

Often runners find themselves fighting annoying and recurring pains in their tibia, especially as they increase the number of kilometers they run. The diagnosis (often found by “Dr. Google”) that is most frequently found in these cases is: shin splints.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints are an inflammation affecting the periosteum, a membrane covering our bones which performs the function of nourishing, protecting and regenerating our bones. Although the cause is still unknown today, the most common situations that trigger shin splints for runners are:

  • Combining running with other sports where there is both repeated contact and stress (like soccer), or an overload of repeated actions (like basketball and volleyball)
  • Running long distances in unsuitable shoes (especially with little cushioning)
  • Running downhill
  • Being overweight
  • Hollow foot, where the heel tends to lean inward while the rest of the foot is directed outward, and the arch is raised
  • A discrepancy in length of the lower limbs which alters load distribution

When you experience symptoms, as always, it is essential to visit an orthopedic specialist and not to perform a self-diagnosis because there are other injuries with similar characteristics and symptoms:

  • The front compartment syndrome, is caused by example in marathoners, skaters, or skiers by an increase in pressure from contact below the fascia which slows blood flow, promotes stress and decreases oxygen to the tissues in that area.
  • The anterior tibial muscle syndrome which if neglected can certainly cause shin splints. The muscle can begin to suffer due to marathon training, running on hilly terrains, or more frequently, because the complete movement of the foot is not carried out. This involves maintaining the foot in a state of dorsiflexion for a long period which causes the subsequent suffering of the anterior tibial muscle.
  • Stress fracture (diagnosed with radiographs or an MRI in most cases)

How do you avoid this annoying problem?

To avoid the onset of shin splints, it is very important to choose the right running shoes that won’t cause trauma to your legs. To do this, it is essential to know what type of foot and footing you have, possibly using specific analysis of your feet.  

Additionally, it is important to prepare your tendons and muscles before running. Stretching and warming up are essential for avoiding strain, and the same applies for post-run. The initial warm-up as well as the cool down can consist of a simple 5-minute walk before or after the workout.

Finally, running too hard and on irregular ground is more dangerous than on a smoother and even surface. The ideal conditions would be to run on a track or well-maintained soccer field.

In the unfortunate event that you already experience shin splints, it is necessary to visit an orthopedist who can prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine or physical exercises that can help you recover depending on the specific situation. It’s always valid to remember the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation to help you during your recover period.

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