What are shin splints?

Shin splints is a general term used to describe pain along your shin bone – your tibia – that usually develops or gets worse when you exercise, particularly when running.

If you have shin splints, the pain may be down the front or sides of your shin. It’s caused by damage to the muscles, tendons or bone tissue around your shin.

What are the symptoms of shin splints?

As anyone who has suffered from shin splints will tell you, it’s not a subtle injury. You’re more than likely to feel serious pain.

The pain usually happens when you’re exercising and may, at first, ease off during your session.

However, if it becomes too severe to continue, you need to stop. The pain may ease when you stop exercising, only to come back later. If your shin splints are particularly severe, you may have pain when you’re resting. Sometimes, you may also have mild swelling around the area that’s painful.

What causes shin splints?

The causes behind shin splints, ranging from a big increase in your activity levels to weak muscles in the legs.

A change in your activity level, such as starting a new exercise plan or suddenly increasing the distance or pace you run

Running on hard or uneven surfaces.

Wearing poorly fitting or worn-out trainers that don’t cushion and support your feet properly

Being overweight

Having flat feet or feet that roll inwards (known as over-pronation)

Having tight calf muscles, weak ankles or a tight achilles tendon (the band of tissue connecting the heel to the calf muscle)

Poor core stability

Tight calf muscles and hamstrings

Weak quadriceps or foot arch muscles

Medial tibial stress syndrome (stress on your shin bone) – it’s thought that repeated stress on your bone may cause injury to the bone tissue and the periosteum, the membrane covering it.

Stress fractures – small breaks in your tibia, caused by stress on the bone.

Muscle strain, where you overstretch certain muscles in the front of your leg and damage some of the muscle fibres.

Tendon dysfunction – general overloading of the tendon leading to changes that cause swelling and pain.

How do you treat shin splints?

There’s plenty you can do yourself, particularly in mild cases. 

USE AN ICE-PACK

Use an ice-pack to help relieve the pain. Don’t apply it directly to your skin – wrap the ice-pack in a towel and hold it in place for ten to 20 minutes at a time. You can repeat this several times a day if you need to.”

As you might expect, resting your legs is also an effective way to treat shin splints. You might be able to keep exercising during this spell, but in bad cases you can rule out running for up to three months.

Stop running and rest for a few weeks. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you may not need to completely rest. Talk to a physiotherapist and discuss ways you can modify your exercises to help get you running again and prevent the condition recurring.

If rest isn’t helping, a physiotherapist will be able to develop a training programme that lets you gradually increase your level of activity and helps you get back to your usual exercise regime.

Stretching your calf, shin and hamstring muscles regularly, as well as strengthening your glutes, core and quads, will also help treat and prevent shin splints.

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