With the spring running season coming to a close, now is the time the dreaded injuries start to pop up. As people move from the treadmill to the pavement outside, we start to see an influx of runners in my office and one of the most common issues being treated is shin splints.
While there are hundreds of products that claim to cure them, most don't. They may stop the pain for a while but they do not cure them completely. Shin splints will become a chronic problem if they are left untreated.
To treat shin splints you have to first understand what they are. Although the pain is in the shin, they are not just an injury to the shin. The medical term for shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome. There are stresses being placed on the shin bone, which is the tibia. If you have shin splints and you run your finger along the tibia, you will feel lots of bumps. These are there for a reason. You could have flat feet or high arches that are affecting the shin, you could have weak hips which affects the shins. You could have muscle imbalances that cause changes to your running form. There are a lot of reasons that could have developed shin splints and sometimes the answer is two or three different reasons and you have to attack the biggest offender first.
If you have shin splints, you should seek the care of a physical therapist that specializes in runners. You need to have the cause of the shin splints diagnosed. While it is very easy to diagnose shin splints from the comfort of your own home, finding the cause of the issue takes hands-on testing to determine.
But there are some things that can be done right away, to get the inflammation calmed down and remove the shin splints. First, in the video below are three stretches you can do to help decrease the pain from shin splints. You will notice that there is one stretch for the front of the foot, one for the back of the leg and one for the hips. It is important to stretch all of the structures that could be causing your shin splints and not just stick to the foot stretch. You can do these stretches many times throughout the day. You do not have to do all three every time, if you only have time to do one then just do one and then do the others later.
Second, once you start feeling pain in your shins, you should begin icing them daily for about 15 minutes. A bag of peas or a homemade ice bag will do it. If you have time to ice more often than you can do it a few times a day.
Third, you want to make sure that you are foam rolling. If you are a runner and you are not foam rolling every part of your leg every day for at least 15 minutes, then you are not allowing your muscles to recover and are setting yourself up for an even greater injury. If you need help on how to foam roll check out Total Performance Physical Therapy's You Tube channel for many videos on how to properly foam roll.
Lastly, you also want to check when the last time you replaced your running shoes was or note if you just changed running shoes. If you switch brands or types of running shoes and you develop shin splints then those are not the shoes for you. I recommend changing your shoes every 300 miles. Yes, I understand people can get a lot more miles out of them and not get injured but that is the industry standard. Sticking with the same shoes, especially if you had no issues and no pain is advised.
The greatest problem in getting rid of shin splints is that people treat the symptoms. They ice or do some online program until the shins don't hurt anymore, thinking they solved the problem. Then a month, or a year, later the pain comes back, most likely even more intense than the last time and this time it doesn't go away. If you don't solve the problem and only treat the symptoms, shin splints can plague you for years and worse yet completely take you out of running.