Shin splints are a common injury, especially among runners and athletes. The medical term for shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). It causes pain along the shin bone, or tibia. If left untreated, it can progress to a stress fracture. Thankfully, shin splints can often be prevented with some simple steps.
What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints refer to pain along the inner edge of the shin bone. It is often described as a diffuse aching pain. It happens when too much stress is placed on the shin bone and connective tissue. This leads to inflammation of the periosteum, which is the layer that surrounds the bone.
Shin splints often occur in runners, dancers, military recruits, and other athletes involved in jumping sports. They tend to happen when there is a sudden increase in training intensity or duration. Shin splints can occur in the front or back of the lower leg.
Several factors can increase your risk of developing shin splints:
- Sudden increases in mileage or intensity
- Running on hard or uneven surfaces
- Worn out athletic shoes
- Overpronation (excessive inward foot rolling)
- High arches
- Weak hip and leg muscles
- Poor running form
Here are some tips to help prevent shin splints:
- Gradually increase training. Avoid sudden spikes in mileage or intensity. Increase no more than 10% per week.
- Stretch and foam roll. Stretch your calves, hamstrings, and tibialis anterior regularly. Foam rolling can also help relax tight muscles.
- Run on softer surfaces. Choose dirt trails or synthetic tracks instead of concrete when possible.
- Consider orthotics. Arch supports or orthotics may help with overpronation or high arches.
- Strengthen your hips and feet. Do exercises to target the hips, glutes, calves, and intrinsic foot muscles.
- Use proper running form. Land with your foot under your hips, not too far out in front. Avoid overstriding.
- Replace shoes regularly. Aim for 300-500 miles before replacing running shoes. Rotate between 2-3 pairs.
- Cross train. Swimming, cycling, and other low-impact activities can provide active rest days.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight increases the stress on the shins with repetitive impact.
With some preventive steps, shin splints can often be avoided. But if you do develop symptoms, rest and ice can help. See a physical therapist or athletic trainer if pain persists beyond two weeks. They can assess your biomechanics and prescribe targeted stretches and exercises. With proper treatment, most cases of shin splints resolve within 3-6 months.