What are shin splints and when will they get better?

Posted by Tom Kalka On June - 29 - 2011  

Usually when an athlete complains of pain and / or inflammation on the front and sides of their lower leg, they refer to this type of pain as shin splints.  This is a common complaint among people who exercise, and even with some people who do not exercise but are flat footed or overweight.  In either case they can be a real problem if you are trying to get in shape or stay in shape.

What are “shin splints”?

Shin splints refer to an inflammation of the Anterior Tibilas (the muscle in your shins).  In severe cases, shin splints can lead to a stress fracture.

Causes

There are three main causes of shin splints:

  • Being overweight. Excess pounds will cause a greater amount of force on your lower extremities, especially during impacting exercises.
  • Running or walking on hard surfaces.  Cement, concrete and tar are extremely hard surfaces and unfortunately the Outdoor Conditioning Program is stuck using these surfaces most of the time.  The more you can stay off these surfaces the better.  Running on grass or dirt trails or even rubberized tracks is much better for you.
  • Shoes.  Running shoes are designed to absorb the impact of running.  Women over 150 lbs. and men over 180 lbs. are considered heavy runners and should buy shoes accordingly.  Shoes are only good for about 3-4 months. The heavier you are, the more miles you put on your shoes, and the harder the surfaces you are running on will determine how quickly you need to change your shoes.  If you are experiencing pain in your shins, new shoes are generally the quickest way to fixing the problem, most of the time.

Treatments

Following the guidelines above are the best ways to avoid shin splints.  If you do start to feel pain in your shins, icing is going to be the best way to treat the pain before it gets too bad.  To do this, fill a Dixie or Styrofoam cup with water and freeze it.  Peel about ½ inch away at the top and rub the exposed ice on your shin until it is gone (15-20 minutes).  Do this 2-3 times a day for 1-2 weeks.

You CAN continue to run while using this method if the pain isn’t too bad. Also, stretch your shins by sitting on the floor with your legs and feet in front of you. Have a partner stretch you by pointing your toes toward the ground and then flexing them back toward your body.

Importance of Variation in Exercise

One of the best ways to minimize shin splints is to vary your exercise program to avoid repetitive activity.  If you enroll in a fitness boot camp you will participate in different exercises each time.  If you do suffer from shin splints though, make sure to let our personal trainers know about it ahead of time so we can make sure that you don’t make matters worse during class.