Understanding Shin Splints

runningIf you are a committed runner, then you have most likely experienced shin splits in your running career. It is estimated that 20 percent of runners get shin splits, and all can agree that the pain can border on unbearable. Some people describe the pain as ranging from sharp to dull, feeling as if the bone is literally splintering when it is at its worst. There are also differences in where the pain is felt in the body. Some runners say it radiates from the muscle, while others feel the injury in the shinbone itself or the knee. Since the pain can vary from person to person, this can create difficulties when diagnosing the core of the problem. 

For those who don’t know, shin splints are an injury that occurs when the muscles, tendons and bone tissue in the shinbone becomes overused. It can be as minor as a swollen stress injury or as severe as an actual fracture in the bone. Almost all shin splints are caused by the bone getting injured during athletic activity and the muscle swelling. When it does not get treated properly it can lead to a bone fracture. 

Aside from the bone injuries, a small percent of shin splints affect the muscle. The muscle begins to swell and as it becomes more and more swollen, the tendons tighten up, which causes the pain. You can figure out which kind of shin splint you have by doing the pressure test. If you can apply gentle pressure to your shinbone and not experience a great amount of pain, then you probably have a muscle injury, rather than a bone-related shin splint. 

No matter what kind of injury you have inflicted with, there are three factors that play into the making of a shin splint. If you run with underpronation, wich is when your feet roll inward, or if you have an extra long stride, than you could be putting too much force onto your shinbone, putting yourself at risk. If you are running too far too quickly into your training, meaning you are pushing yourself too hard in a short amount of time, than this can also cause the injury. You may also just be at an age when your bone density is beginning to lessen or your body mass index might be quite high, both which can lead to shin splints.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent shin splints from occurring, the best being to never get one to begin with. By keeping your mileage increase at 10 percent or less each week, running on various surfaces and being aware of your pain levels, you can play a big role in preventing injury from ever happening in the first place. You can even do exercises to strengthen your shin muscle such as calf raises. In order to prevent injury, you need to be as vigilant about preventative care as you are with your athletic training. This way it won’t be necessary to take time off due to an injury like a shin splint. 

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Steven Pisano

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