Shin Splints are a painful condition that commonly affects runners. They cause shin pain that can seriously mess with your training – but a couple of simple tests can predict how prone to the problem you might be – so you know to ramp up protection against them. Here’s what you need to know about shin splints.
What Are Shin Splints?
Known medically as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome – or MTSS – they’re a problem that manifests as pain alongside and under the shin bone that runs along the front of the lower leg.
They happen if something you do – usually some kind of impact exercise like running or jumping – causes irritation of the muscles making them swell. The inflammation associated with this then causes pain.
They’re also common if you do sports with lots of stops and starts like football or tennis.
Why Shin Splints Occur
Often it’s to do with doing too much impact activity too quickly – if you suddenly ramp up how far, fast or often you run, you can overload the muscles and trigger the pain of shin splints.
However, it’s also true that some people are more prone to getting shin splints that others – and this test pinpoints who they might be.
Women are more prone to shin splints as are those with a higher BMI.
Running downhill can also trigger them as you tend to control your speed by landing on your heels when you do it – and this puts pressure through the front of the leg.
If you tend to run on your toes or heels, you also increase risk.
The Shin Splint Proneness Test
I learned about this test from physiotherapist Paul Hobrough when I interviewed him for an article. To do it follow these instructions…
Sit on the floor with your legs outstretched and just let your ankles relax and fall into their natural position – how upright are they?
The closer they are to making a 90-degree angle with your shin the tighter everything is along the front of your legs and the more at risk of shin splints you are.
I score ridiculously brilliantly on this test as my ankles are virtually pointing the opposite way- this not down to any dedication to stretching but having hypermobile joints (apparently my elbows do something odd too) but if you didn’t, Paul did tell me of a REALLY simple exercise that helps things.
Other Shin Splint Tests to Try
Paul’s test isn’t the only way to see if you’re more prone to shin splints.
A study by researchers at the University of Canberra also found two other tests that correlate to a greater risk of developing shin splints.
Grab your shin. Using your hand, then feel the area around and under the shin bone. If you feel any pain then you’ve already got some level of inflammation which means you might be on your way to developing shin splints.
Their second test involves pressing your finger into the skin on the side of the shin bone, about halfway up the leg and holding it for five seconds. If the indentation from this remains for more than a second or two after you lift your finger, that’s a sign that there is fluid in the are – and again, your risk of shin splints might be increased.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
If you score poorly on the tests, you need to build up strength and flexibility. And Paul suggests a couple of simple exercises to do it.
The first thing to do is to stretch out that area that is tight and reducing movement. And to do that you simply need to spend a few minutes a day sitting on your heels. So kneel down on the floor, then sit back so your bum is resting on your ankles – do that for a few minutes a few times a day and you’ll stretch out the area that’s tight.
Floppy folk like me, however, should probably also strengthen their shin and calf muscles to boost their support when running – and again, Paul says there’s a simple move to do so – just walk around the house for a few minutes on your heels trying not to let your toes touch the floor. Simple.
The easiest way to strength your calves is to do some simple toe raises. Just raise yourself and down on your toes.
It’ll also help to work on flexibility in your Achilles tendon as if this is tight it can alter how you run.
Reduce Your Other Risk Factors
Change your running shoes regularly as poor shock absorption from your trainers can increase impact and risk of irritation. Generally, you should replace your shoes every 300-400 miles.
Also, change up where you run – you’re more likely to develop shin splints running on hard surfaces as the impact is greater. Switching some sessions to grass, sand or track can help lower risk. And watch how many downhills are in your route.
It’s also suggested that shin splints are more likely to occur during cold weather training – but that warming up correctly can help cut risk. Also remember, the main trigger for shin splints is trying to do too much too soon so build up speed, distance or frequency slowly if you are more prone to the problem.
Shin Splint Treatment
If you get shin splints it’s important to rest up for a while. If you keep training with them you can actually develop a stress fracture which takes far longer to recover from.
There’s no suggested treatment for shin splints. Icing the area and using anti-inflammatories can help reduce feelings of pain, but time is the best healer.
You might also want to check out this post on the Runner Acronym’s HARM and RICE that might also help speed up your recovery.
If the problem doesn’t go away after a short period of rest, then it’s best to see a physiotherapist just to make sure that things haven’t got worse.
Main image: freedigitalphotos.net