Medial tibial stress syndrome, more widely known as shin splints, is the most common cause of shin pain. Although shin pain is often caused and exacerbated by too much running and jumping, there are a number of ways to reduce the risk of it occurring. Here are our top 10 tips for preventing shin splints!
Shin splints is a general term used to describe pain in the shin, of which there can be a number of causes. Medial tibial stress syndrome is the most common cause, where repetitive strain and overuse causes traction forces on the sheath surrounding the bone, resulting in pain and inflammation.
How to prevent shin splints
Increase training gradually
Increasing mileage too quickly and/or training at a greater intensity is one of the more common causes of shin splints. Building up training slowly and not overdoing it can help you avoid any injuries. Running regularly on hard surfaces can be damaging to your shins, so changing the surfaces you run on can be a way to increase training at a lower risk of injury. You may be able to train more if you sometimes run on grass and off-road instead of on hard surfaces.
Avoid running on your toes
Running a lot on your toes can also increase the chance of shin pain. This is difficult for sprinters who have to sprint on their toes! Try doing a session of 6x150m flat-footed. But by mixing up your training and the surfaces you run on, the risk of injury can be decreased. If you cannot avoid it then a shock absorbing insole can help by cushioning the lower leg, so reducing the risk of injury.
Tape the shins
If you are recovering from shin pain or have suffered in the past, then applying a simple taping technique can help support the tissues and often instantly relieve pain. Watch our video on how to tape for shin pain.
Wear the correct shoes
Something as simple as choosing the right running shoe can prevent injury. Wearing shoes that are too old which have lost their cushioning and support can cause problems. A pair of running shoes will have lost most of their cushioning after 400 miles. Even if you don't run that many miles, if your shoes are over 6 months old they may still need replacing. You can buy trainers to suit your running style and gait; a specialist running shop can advise on which shoe is best for you.
Get your feet checked!
Correct foot biomechanics is essential. See a professional podiatrist who can perform gait analysis and assess if you overpronate or oversupinate.
- Overpronation - If the foot rolls inwards (overpronates) or flattens too much when running then this can contribute to a number of injuries. It can cause the lower leg to rotate inwards which in turn increases the stress on the soft tissues of the lower leg. Running shoes with a firmer midsole on the inside (known as a stability shoe or motion control shoe) can help overpronation by reducing the amount the foot rolls in.
- By contrast, over-supination is when the foot rolls outwards too much when in contact with the ground. It is rarer than overpronation but can cause injuries as the foot is less able to absorb shock. Supinators usually need a neutral shoe with plenty of cushioning.
If you think you have any biomechanical issues, a podiatrist or sports injury therapist/physiotherapist can assess you and advise on what action to take if any. Professionals can do gait analysis tests using either a treadmill or force plates to discover any problems.
Stretch the lower leg muscles
Lack of flexibility around the ankle can increase stress on the soft tissues, muscles, and tendons of the lower leg when running. Stretching the calf muscles, with a particular focus on the tibialis posterior muscle (the main muscle running down the lower leg to the inside of the ankle) will help reduce this stress. Continuing to stretch properly and regularly will help to keep your lower leg healthy. If the lower leg muscles are particularly tight then a plantar fasciitis night splint is a particularly effective way of stretching the muscles.
Get a regular sports massage
A deep tissue sports massage can help to keep the lower leg muscles supple and in good condition. Massage reduces any tight knots or lumps in the muscle and aids circulation of blood through the tissues. It opens microcirculation and softens scar tissue.
Don't ignore pain!
If you feel any pain, deal with it sooner rather than later. Rest the leg from high impact exercises like running and jumping, and swim or cycle instead.
If you do have pain then apply ice to the area for approximately 10 minutes immediately after training. This may help keep inflammation down and prevent the injury from becoming chronic. Do not apply ice directly to the skin as this may cause ice burns. Use a wet tea towel or a commercially available cold wrap.
Applying heat to the shins before training will warm up the tissues and help circulate blood through the muscles making them more efficient.
Read more on treatment and rehabilitation of shin splints.