Whether a sprinter, jumper, hurdler or long distance runner, track and field athletes are all at risk for the same common injuries if they aren’t careful. Among the most common overuse injuries is the frustrating and painful case of shin splints. The condition results from inflammation to the anterior or posterior muscles and tendons in the lower leg or adjacent soft tissue along the tibia, commonly known as the shin bone. The area of tenderness can range from two to six inches and can become so painful that walking, let alone running, is not an option.
Shin splints are almost inevitable if the proper precautions are not taken. ATI’s Sports Medicine Team and physical therapists offer these tips when it comes to shin splint prevention and treatment.
Cause of Shin Splints
Shin splints are directly related to the repetitive force associated with running, especially when running techniques and conditions are not ideal.
Some of the most common causes include:
- Switching from soft running surfaces to hard surfaces.
- Dramatic change in your routine, or an increase of intensity/frequency of running workouts.
- Improper footwear, i.e. worn out running shoes, or shoes that do not meet the needs of your foot mechanics.
Prevent Shin Splints
Kristin Schmidt, physical therapist at ATI Physical Therapy’s New Berlin, WI location, recommends having a gait analysis done in order to assess body mechanics. This can help determine if posture-related or movement-related problems are to blame for shin splints.
“During a gait analysis you sometimes find that patients are heavy “heel strikers” in which the anterior muscles are working extra hard at initial contact,” says Schmidt. “An excessive heel strike can also increase forces that are transmitted up the hip and pelvis. In cases like this, I would recommend a more “mid foot” contact at initial contact. The patient’s stride length can also affect whether or not heel strike versus mid foot strike occurs; sometimes shortening the stride makes it easier to avoid a heavy heel strike.”
Schmidt also offers the following recommendations to help prevent shin splints:
- Wear proper shoes: Ask an expert to help, and consider the following when looking for the right shoe: What kind of runner are you, and where will you be running? What kind of foot shape/ arch do you have?
- Choose ideal running surfaces and allow time for adjustment: Take into consideration that hard surfaces can cause and aggravate shin splints. Also, avoid running on a slant and don’t do too much uphill running.
- Stretch: With all activity, proper stretching is important before and after. Be sure to not only stretch the legs, but the pelvis and hips. It has been shown that unstable hip, pelvis and core muscles can contribute to leg injuries.
Treatment of Shin Splints
Schmidt suggests icing the inflamed area as a first step, followed by rest. Also, try active rest, low-impact exercises like the elliptical trainer, stationary cycling, and swimming. These are lower impact activities that decrease weight-bearing forces and don’t require repetitive impact on hard surfaces. Often a good solution is to cross train to avoid an overuse injury.
If these prevention and treatment tips don’t address your shin splints, contact ATI for a Complimentary Injury Screening or seek medical attention. Your symptoms may need more extensive treatment, such as physical therapy, or may be indicative of other ailments such as Compartment Syndrome or a Stress Fracture.