The tibia is the leg bone that makes up your shin. Often times runners, may end up with what is called tibial stress syndrome, but commonly called shin splints. What are shin splints? Who gets shin splints? Are there ways to prevent shin splints? What is the treatment?
Since the weather is going to start getting warmer and you are anxious to get rid of the cabin fever and go for a run outdoors, it is important to remember that you need to start out by not doing too much at once. The various causes of shin splints share two commonalities, which are: putting too much stress on the shin (tibia) and the muscles working too hard or harder than what accustomed to too quickly, which leads to inflammation.
Specific causes of shin splints include:
- Runners with flat feet, due to the foot’s extra pull on the muscles to work, as well as increased force placed on the foot, which travels up the leg.
- Certain types of physical activity, such as running up and down hills, as in cross-country.
- Sports with fast turning and stops, such as soccer and tennis, which causes the muscles to work harder.
- Changing running surfaces, such as training in the gym on an air runner and transferring to outdoor running trails, because this too causes increased force on the shin (tibia) and causes the muscle to work harder.
13% of the injuries experienced by runners are shin splints. Podiatrists usually make the diagnosis of shin splints based off what the patient tells them about their pain, as well as the physical exam. The common story told by patients coming in for shin splints is that they have:
- Changed or started a new running routine
- Started playing sports, such as soccer, tennis, any sports with fast turns and stopping, as well as long distance running, such as track
- Have a dull, achy, constant pain in the lower leg
- More pain at the front and inside of the lower leg
- Pain during exercise, after, or both
These are the classic signs and symptoms that the patient will relate when coming into the office with possibility of shin splints. A thorough lower extremity physical exam may reveal the exact location of tenderness. From this information, it will be able to be determined which muscles are being overworked based on where they attach at the location of tenderness. Additionally, the ability of the foot to function properly, also called biomechanics will be assessed. X-rays do not usually need to be taken, but if there is a possibility of a stress fracture then an x-ray may be needed to exclude the stress fracture.
Good news! There are ways to prevent shin splints, which include:
- Gradually increasing running distances
- Stretching before and after running
- Running on soft surfaces, such as grass or dirt; if this terrain is not an option try running on a track rather than on hard concrete
- Have properly fitting running shoes
- Replace your running shoes after 300-400 miles
- Do not run every day, it is better to alternate with other lower impact activities such as biking or swimming
If you are already experiencing shin splints you can try self-treatments such as:
- Taking a period of rest from running
- Stretching and calf strengthening exercises before and after running
- Taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as Advil, after running
- Ice the front of your legs after exercise
If these self-treatments do not help get rid of your shin splints or your shin splints keep recurring it is important to go see a podiatrist for further assessment. Your shin splints may be due to flat feet, which is a biomechanical problem since the foot is not functioning properly. If this is the case, Platte Valley Foot and Ankle Clinic can help make the proper custom orthoses, for your shoes, to make your foot function properly, which will get you back on your feet and running in no time, and most importantly keeping it that way! Happy running!