Every runner’s nightmare – shin splints!

What causes shin splints and what can you do?

Health Advisor

27 July 2017

What are shin splints?

Shin splints, otherwise known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, is a general term for pain in the shins, most commonly in relation to exercise. They can have several suspected causes, one of which is swelling and inflammation around the shin, which puts increased pressure on the bone. In some cases, shin splints can be caused by tiny fractures in the shin bone, which can obviously be very painful!

If you’ve got shin splints you’ll probably know! They can be quite painful, ranging from a dull ache at first, to a sharp or severe pain across a wide area of the shin if you continue exercising with them. They can affect both shins, but are often most painful in your dominant leg.

Why do I get shin splints from running?

Shin splints are particularly common in runners because of the repetitive impact caused by your feet hitting the ground, which you won’t see in sports like cycling or swimming. In some cases shin splints in runners is caused by doing too much too quickly. This is a sure way to damage the muscles and cause inflammation, which can have a knock on effect on your bones and joints. 

However, even if you take things slow, there are three key reasons why you might experience shin splints anyway: hard surfaces, poor footwear and foot shape.

If you run on hard surfaces like roads and pavements, you increase the impact on your lower legs. The constant shocks sent up your legs will eventually begin to damage the muscles, bones and joints in your legs.

Poor trainers are another common cause, especially for those of you who run on harder surfaces. Most running trainers are designed to cushion and support the foot, while absorbing some of the impact. If your trainers are poor quality or just too old, then they won’t be fulfilling this function and all that shock will be sent straight up your legs.

In some cases, shin splints can be caused by flat feet, or feet that roll inwards (also known as over-pronation), as this misalignment can put extra strain on the legs and cause impact to be poorly distributed or absorbed.

How long does it take shin splints to heal?

This is a tough one to answer – it all depends on how severe your shin splints are, how long you ignore them for and how long you rest for! It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for shin splints to heal depending on these factors.

If you go back to running too soon after getting shin splints, you’ll likely find that they can quickly come back and take longer to heal.

How to recover from shin splints

The most important thing you can do is rest. Take some time off from running – at least two or three weeks! If you really have to exercise in the meantime, try something that doesn’t put weight on your legs, such as weights, cycling or swimming.

When you first notice the shin splints, make sure to apply an ice pack as quickly as you can to reduce swelling and inflammation – 20 minutes every couple of hours is best! This is especially important in the first few days to help your damaged bone and muscle recover quicker. After a few days stop using ice – your muscles will need heat now to help them relax and recover. Read this article for some more information on when to use heat and when to use ice to treat an injury.

As well as the ice pack, you may want to apply arnica gel too. This is particularly useful when you’re out and about, as you obviously can’t keep ice on your leg all day! Our Atrogel arnica gel is made from fresh, organic arnica flowers and is fantastic for reducing inflammation and easing pain. This can be used throughout the recovery process, not just at the beginning!

When you’re ready to start running again, do so slowly so that the problem doesn’t come back, and make sure to follow my tips for preventing shin splints!

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