Lower leg pain or in more advanced terms shin splints or tibial stress syndrome, afflict many athletes who experience pain in the lower leg while running. This pain can often prevent a person from running or jogging and cause a great amount of discomfort even when seated or lying down. Fortunately, through proper preparation and treatment athletes can prevent shin splints.
What are shin splints?
Runners often call any lower leg pain, especially on the front of the tibia, a shin splint. However no single cause exists for tibial stress syndrome. The associated pain may be due to irritated or swollen muscles which have been overused, stress fractures in the bone, or flat feet when running which collapses the arch of the foot and stretches the muscles and tendons. Shin splints are common in athletes including runners and dancers.
What causes shin splints?
Shin splints have multiple causes but most involve overexertion or lack of preparation. Some common culprits include:
• Increasing running intensity too quickly. Most trainers use a ten per cent rule that basically states a runner should not increase their intensity or mileage by more than ten per cent a week. Many new runners overextend themselves and take on too much, too fast. This is considered an overuse injury.
• Running on hard surfaces. Running on concrete and other hard surfaces place additional strain and wear on the muscles, joints, and bones. Runners should at the very least try to vary running surfaces to include grass and dirt, particularly on high mileage runs.
• Inadequate rest and recovery. Many novice runners are advised not to run two days in a row to prevent overuse in muscles that aren’t used to the stress caused by the repeated impact of running. Even experienced runners should take at least one day off per week to allow the body to recuperate and prevent overuse injuries.
• Old or incorrect footwear. The correct footwear can help prevent shin splints not only by offering cushioning but also by allowing a runner to use the proper stride. Old running shoes should be replaced when the cushioning has been lost.
Treatment for shin splints
• Building strength in the calves and stretching. Heel raises, toe raises and other exercises that target the calves will strengthen the shin and calf muscles and make them capable of enduring greater strain. Proper stretching post-workout will help prevent tightness in the calves that can produce aching pain later. Some athletes may wish to use the services of a sports masseuse.
Icing the area. The tried and true remedy of ice applies to shin splints as well. Applying ice for 20 to 30 minutes every few hours for a few days should reduce swelling and pain.
Using an anti-inflammatory. An anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen can ease pain and reduce swelling. Any medication should not be used more than occasionally without doctor approval, however.
Don’t push past the limit.
More than anything else shin splints are caused by a runner overextending himself or herself. Athletes may be tempted to push themselves to extremes but in many cases that only causes undue damage to the body.
By paying attention to the body’s warning signs, preparing for any athletic activity, and treating symptoms quickly, a runner can ensure staying on his feet for many miles to come.