shin splints

Are shin splints stopping you from running?

Do you run? Do you try to run regularly and feel great when you do? But do you experience shin pain down your legs which stops you from running? This is commonly known as shin splints or more clinically as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) and effects runners world over.

The good news is that there is a way to keep on running, to get fitter and even run further without any shin pain!

Shin splints don’t have to stop you running and you can even run further shin-pain free!

Think back to how you feel after you have completed a successful run. How do you feel – Happy? Proud? Full of joy and achievement?

These are some of the best aspects of running and in addition it is one the most accessible and effective forms of exercise to improve body composition, mood, cardiac and respiratory fitness and general wellbeing.

On the other side of the coin, it can be so frustrating when you get into a good running groove and all of a sudden feel as though someone is stabbing you in the legs every time you take a stride. Immediately running can become painful with every step and it can feel as though you’re going to lose all of your hard earned progress if you stop running.

So what is this pain you’re experiencing? Shin splints or MTSS is a repetitive stress injury to the shin bone (Tibia) and surrounding connective tissue of the lower leg and is often caused by sudden increases in running volume or intensity.

How to Run Further and for Longer with no Shin Pain

Initial Treatment

Initially; following the onset of shin pain, rest is the best thing to do. Depending on the severity, this can be anywhere up to 6 weeks.

If we remember back to year 9 Phys Ed; ice should be administered with rest. This should be done more immediately after exercise for up to 20 minutes. This will help reduce any inflammation and allow for healing.

Alternative Exercise With Pain

Believe it or not running on painful legs will not make the pain go away (go figure?). However whilst there is still pain with running, we can exercise in ways which don’t add stress to the already inflamed area. Low impact activities such as cycling and swimming can be great alternatives to keep our cardio respiratory fitness up whilst we’re off the tracks and roads. This is important not only because it’s great for our general health and well-being but it can translate back to our running performance when we do get back into it. This is achieved  through maintenance and improvements to our cardiovascular, muscular and respiratory systems from continuing alternative forms of exercise.

Getting Back Into It!

When the pain subsides we can start to get back to what we love. Running!

The most important thing to remember is not to overdo it. This will only lead to another flare up and you will be back on the couch scrolling through photos of runners on social media as you restart the cycle of pain and rest all over again.

Start conservatively and try to select  an amount of running that you can complete with no signs at all of stress to your shins. This amount will depend on your individual fitness level but try to use recent past experience to guide how much you do in your first week. For some this will be 1-2 runs per week of 10 minutes, for others this will be more.

From here we PROGRESS SLOWLY. General research on running progression suggests that increases by somewhere up to 10% per week will limit any chance of training-induced injury. So if you run 10km in your first week with no pain, the following week try to run somewhere around 10.5-11km. If you manage 40 minutes of running pain free, try to aim for up to 45 minutes in the following week.

Finally aiming to run on soft, even ground such as ovals or parks can help to limit the impact on the shins and help to ward off any flare ups.

Recognising Symptoms Early

Considering that MTSS is a result of built up stress to the shin or Tibial area, symptoms will tend to pop their annoying head up at some point before they progress into more limiting pain. It is important to recognise when they do this and to back off the duration and intensity of your runs. This might mean running less, not running as fast or even swapping back to our alternative sports for a bit such as swimming and cycling.

Strengthening

Finally strengthening the body to help cope with the demands of running is a great way to protect ourselves from the stresses associated with running but to also improve our running performance!

Strength exercises which target our hip and glut muscles as well as thigh, calf and shin muscles can all be useful to help prevent injury as well as to improve our strength and power with every stride. This will also help us to run more efficiently and to improve your running performance!

To learn more about reducing injury risk and improving running performance through strength training consult and Accredited Exercise Physiologist for an individualised assessment and personalised exercise program.

Tips to Keep Running Pain Free:

  • Immediate treatment – If you have shin pain from running the best thing to do is apply rest for up to 20 minutes after your run. After this, REST! At least until the pain settles back down.
  • Alternative exercise – Keep active with low impact forms of exercise whilst you are giving the shins time to rest.
  • Getting Back Into It – When your pain has subsided, start running again but make it a conservative, manageable amount that you can complete pain free.
  • Recognise Symptoms Early – Be aware of any pain starting at any point and back off the running! Take a rest from running until the pain goes away and then restart with smaller, manageable amounts.
  • Strengthening – Consult an Accredited Exercise Physiologist for an assessment and individualised exercise program to help reduce your risk of running related injury and to enhance your running performance.