With the start of a new year, you may have made New Year resolutions to start running, or to take your running to the next level by completing your first marathon or half marathon. There are many factors to consider when you start to run or train for longer races. One major consideration is to avoid injuries. Shin splints are a common injury that physiotherapists see in clinic.
Shin splints are an umbrella term used to describe pain and discomfort in either the front or back portion of your shin. It usually presents in the lower 1/3 of the leg in the muscles around the tibia (shin bone). It typically has a dull ache but can be sharp and severe pain. Shin splints often start at the beginning of the workout, it may or may not disappear during the workout, and then returns after you finish your workout. Patients may also complain of soreness to touch and swelling.
Shin splints are often associated with running injuries, especially for long distance runners, novice runners, overzealous fitness fanatics, and for those just increasing hill training. You may also see it with dancers, tennis players, basketball players, or high divers, but it is not exclusive to these athletes.
Some of the major causes of shin splints include: changes in running surface and terrain, changes in training regimes, poor foot or ankle biomechanics, poor running mechanics, muscle imbalances, being overweight, or unconditioned athletes doing too much, too fast.
Typically your healthcare professional will want to rule out several conditions with the most serious being stress fractures and compartment syndrome. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment usually starts out conservatively with ice, ultrasound, and interferential current to control pain and swelling. Your doctor may also try to control inflammation with the use of some medications. There will be discussions about activity modifications such as no hill running. There may be other treatments to try such as taping or orthotics, and your physiotherapist may focus on some stretching and strengthening exercises. If conservative treatment does not appear to be helping, aggressive treatment may be considered. This may include a cessation of activity altogether, immobilization, or in some cases, surgery.
Recovery from this injury can be long and frustrating and it can really impede your goals – whether that includes getting back in shape or completing your first marathon. So remember to progress your training at a reasonable rate and make changes in your routine slowly. Happy running!