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Shin Splints: Don't let your shins stop you!

Every spring there is that one gorgeous day - 65 degrees, a slight breeze, the sun is shining, and you and everyone else thinks “this is a great day for my first run of the season.” About 3 or 4 weeks after that first wonderful day, I see you and everyone else who got shin splints and can’t run anymore. 

Shin splints can be very painful and keep you from running!

Front and side shin pain

Shin splints: a catch all term for any sort of shin and lower leg pain that isn’t the achilles or calf. This often includes tibalis anterior tendon issues, tibialis posterior tendon issues, and tibial bone stress reaction or fractures. The symptoms include a dull ache in the front or inside of the shin bone, throbbing, and tenderness. Pain will worsen with activity and generally improve with rest. 

What causes shin splints? Generally a sudden increase in activity level (like starting up running on the most beautiful day of the year after not running the whole winter), improper footwear for you, issues with running form, over-training, lack of strength and mobility through the foot, ankle, hips, and back.

What can I do to avoid Shin Splints? 

  • Consider your training plan:

If you haven’t run in 3 months, diving into 3 x 45 minute runs a week isn’t a good idea. While there are different “best” programs for every individual, a good example might be 2-3 x 20min runs, where you alternate running for 3 mins and walking for 2 mins to build up capacity while keeping demand on your muscles and joints lower.

  • Consider running form:

Over-striding can increase demand on one of the main muscles that cause shin splints (tibialis anterior). Our suggestion is to get some professional help on your running form.

  • Consider your strength and mobility:

If you are weak in your feet, ankles, knees, hips, or core, this can impact your running form and the demand on your shins. Lack of mobility in one area will result in excess demand in another area, so making sure the system is balanced is important in avoiding any type of injury. A physical therapist can test your strength and mobility and give you a personalized plan.

  • Consider your shoes:

Are your shoes totally worn on the bottom without any tread left? They are past their expiration date! There is no perfect shoe for everyone - our suggestion is to go to a running shoe store where they have lots of options for you to try on. 

What should I do if I already have shin splints?

Best advice: find a physical therapist that is an expert in running. A full comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan that is individualized to you is your best bet for getting better.

Some quick fix advice:

  1. Check your calf strength - can you do 20 single leg calf raises in a row on each leg? If not, that's a sign there is some weakness in your calf muscles which can contribute to shin splints.

  2. Check your shoes - if your current pair is pretty beat up, switching to a newer pair can help.

  3. Check your programming - if you are running yourself into the ground and getting no rest days that could be contributing to your pain. Majority of half and full marathon training should be fairly easy efforts. For shorter events, rest should be built into max and high effort workouts.

  4. Check the rest of your day - if you aren’t sleeping, not hydrating, and not fueling properly, you are setting yourself up to get injured! Shoot for 8 hours a night of sleep. For hydration: half your body weight in oz of water (or more!). For nutrition: this is a longer subject, but remember, newborn babies need 1200+ calories a day. Adults NEED more than that!

If you are someone who gets shin splints every year when they get more active in the spring, make this year the one where you don't!!

Give us a call today and see how we can help you stay active and pain free.


About the author: Dr. Caitlyn Hauswirth-Varis, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT, CF-L1

Caitlyn Hauswirth-Varis

Caitlyn is not only board certified in all things orthopedic physical therapy, she is an expert in running. She is a former D1 runner, multiple half marathon finisher, and current high school track and field coach. To put it lightly, she's been around the track a few times!

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