Shin splints: The runner’s curse
Friday, December 12, 2014
It’s the time of year when more workouts move indoors and are limited to what we can do in our basements, at the gym or in the driveway with a shovel. With the outdoors largely off-limits to our regular workout schedule, many of us will hit the treadmills harder than usual.
Shin splints is a common injury for runners, typically from overtraining and overuse. Consistent, repetitive running on the same surface such as on treadmills or concrete, exacerbate the issue. Mainly affecting runners and dancers, this dilapidating condition can derail any training regimen and set you back weeks and months. Shin splints is generally characterized by pain in the middle area of the tibia, or shinbone. This injury can begin as a nuisance and build to excruciating pain.
“Shin splints is generally regarded as the inflammation of the muscles and soft tissues in the front of the lower leg, on the outer edge next to the tibia,” said BayCare Clinic orthopaedic surgeon Carl A. DiRaimondo. “Stress fractures in the shinbone are also a common cause for shin splints, as is flat feet, or overpronation, while running. When overused, soreness sets in and the condition will continue to deteriorate unless properly treated.”
Shin splints is generally diagnosed during an examination of the leg with the help of x-rays, a MRI test or bone scan.
Overuse is the primary reason for the development of shin splints, however uphill running, poor footwear, a tight Achilles tendon, abrupt stopping while running, weak ankle muscles and biomechanical issues also lead to the development of the condition.
There are several treatments for the pain associated with shin splints. The simplest form of treatment is rest. Stretching and strengthening your shin muscles/calf muscles is another way to reduce the pain associated with shin splints. These can be as simple as repeatedly extending the foot up and down, with or without added weight. Other ways to lessen pain include taking anti-inflammatory pain reducers and icing the affected area for 15-30 minutes every 3-4 hours until the pain is reduced.
For many of us, rest isn’t an option. Cross-training to maintain your cardiovascular fitness is a great way to reduce the use of your shin muscles used in running. Activities such as cycling, swimming or running in a pool are effective ways of maintaining fitness while allowing your shins to rest. Taking a look at your equipment is another way to help in the reduction of shin splint pain. Visiting a dedicated athletic shoe store will assure for a proper fitting shoe, or the addition of custom shoe insoles will allow for a perfect, custom fit. Neoprene sleeves or special tape can be wrapped around the shin to reduce pain and allow for more comfort. A gait analysis can be performed by a podiatrist to see if overpronation or oversupination is a contributing factor in the development of shin splints.
Carl A. DiRaimondo, MD, received his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and completed his orthopaedic surgery residency at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. DiRaimondo's deep passion for sports medicine led him to pursue a fellowship in the subject at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.