I had a friend in high school that used to despise track.
She loved running, but she would be in pain after practice every day.
She would wrap ice packs around her shins after our workouts and spend an hour in the trainer’s office. She had back problems and other injuries, but the main cause of her pain was shin splints.
In cross country, we would joke about shin splints all the time on our runs. They were so common among our team. In fact, we used to challenge each other to run through them! We were a bunch of macho man knuckleheads that never wanted to see the trainer, but it was dumb idea.
Shin splints covers a lot of lower leg injuries that causes an aching or throbbing pain. “The nature of shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), most often can be captured in four words: too much, too soon”.
So, what exactly are shin splints?
They are broken down into two main types: anterior and posterior.
Anterior shin splints start with the tibialis anterior. The tibialis anterior steadies your foot when it hits the ground, lifts the toes during your stride, and prepares your heel to hit the ground. If you are feeling pain when lifting your toes for your stride, then you are probably suffering from anterior shin splints.
The tibialis anterior will extend past the norm if a runner’s strides are too long. The job of this part is to prevent the foot from slapping against hard surfaces, which would cause lower leg injuries. Anterior shin splints are caused when the tibialis anterior separates itself from the shin to extend past its normal capacity. This will cause inflammation and lead to anterior shin splints.
Posterior shin splints are another very common form of injury for runners. This is caused when there is inflammation of the inner tendons that are attached to the shin itself. They will cause pain along the inner part of your shin and can go down to the arches in one’s feet. The tibialis posterior focuses on pointing your toes downward.
The duty of one’s tibialis posterior is to support the arch during his or her stride. When forces are more than the tibialis posterior can handle, it will cause microtrauma and inflammation, which will lead to shin splints and posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD). Normally, the pain will be by the ankle, and you will mainly feel pain through touch (KT Health, 2016).
There are a few common causes of shin splints. The difficult part about the injury is the fact that finesse is a big part of it. Irritated and swollen muscles from overuse are a very common cause of shin splints. My coach had us run 500 miles one summer for offseason training. Even though I was super happy when I met the goal, I was plagued with injuries the rest of my running career until I had to hang up my spikes for a few years.
Stress fractures are another big factor in shin splints. I would suggest going to a trainer or doctor to have your lower leg evaluated if you are experiencing shin splints on a regular basis.
No one wants to agitate a stress fracture, so it’s best to be safe.
Ross Brakeville states that flat feet or overpronation can cause shin splints due to the collapse of the arch (Brakeville, 2016). “Poor lumbar spine function” and “weakness in stabilizing muscles of the hips or core” are two other factors in the development of shin splints (Brakeville, 2016).
It is important to know what causes shin splints, so we can take preventative measures. Every time I tried to start my running routine back up after injuries, I would be plagued with shin splints because I did not gradually go back into the routine. I was too focused on being fast now and not later.
However, sometimes shin splints arise. It is important to know the symptoms to look out for, so you can make adjustments to your workout and start treatment. What are some of the most common symptoms?
Mayo Clinic states, “If you have shin splints, you might notice tenderness, soreness or pain along the inner side of your shinbone and mild swelling in your lower leg” (Mayo Clinic, 2017). You might also experience calf tightness or swelling as it prolongs.
Early on, the pain might go away once you are done working out, but it will come back as it progresses. It can eventually turn into a stress fracture if you are not careful. That is why it is critical to look out for the symptoms.
You might also feel pain in your lower legs. If you have worn-out shoes or have just made a big change in your routine, you might be experiencing shin splints. Therefore, it is best to take a rest and see a trainer for treatment options. I always suggest seeing a trainer because of the possibility of a stress fracture.
Shin splints are one of the most common injuries to runners, especially beginners. There are many causes, including improper strides, not gradually building up to a workout, overextension, and several other issues.
Anterior and posterior shin splints are caused by two separate parts of the shin. Anterior is more about the upward stride of the feet and reducing impact, while posterior is focused on the downward pointing of the toes and the arch of the foot. Both cause lower leg pain, but in different areas.
Although shin splints seem to be so common that runners can joke about them, it is best to get them treated. Learn from my coach’s mistakes. Although we had a solid few races, our team was destroyed by injuries before the state meet. I made huge improvements, but shin splints with other things kept me down.
Don’t allow shin splints to hinder running for you. Recognize the symptoms, and see a doctor. Your doctor and trainer will be able to help you make progress to take preventative measures. Don’t be like my friend who kept running through the pain. She only made it through one year of track even though she was extremely talented. Focus on prevention.