What Are Shin Splints?

Do you notice a dull ache in your shins when running which sometimes turns into a sharp pain? Sounds like you may be suffering from shin splints – the bane of runners the world over. So, what are shin splints, what are their symptoms and, most importantly, how can you avoid them?

What are shin splints then?

‘Shin splints’ is a term used to describe pain in the front of your lower legs which happens when exercising. They often begin as a dull ache before progressing to sharp pain, which may cause you to stop running.

That said, ‘shin splints’ is actually not a medical term. Instead, it refers to a handful of interrelated kinds of pain in the lower leg brought on by exercise. There’s still no definitive scientific consensus on the condition and no one knows exactly what causes shin splints. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly possible to treat them.

What are the main shin splint symptoms?

Shin splint symptoms are usually experienced during exercise, especially when running, jogging or walking fast. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain in the shins soon after you start exercising
  • A gradual, if not immediate, fading of the pain when you stop
  • The pain begins as a dull ache and gradually becomes sharper
  • Both shins hurt simultaneously
  • You tend to feel the pain across a large part of the shins – it’s not just acute in one spot
  • Possible swelling

Are shin splints a major problem?

By and large, no, they’re usually not a big issue. With rest and recovery, shin splints will usually disappear. That said, there’s a very small chance that you might have some kind of stress fracture – so if the pain persists, even after taking precautionary measures, it’s worth booking in a visit to your GP or a physio.

What causes shin splints?

There are various reasons you might start to suffer from shin splints. The most common causes include:

  • A sudden increase in exercise: You might have recently started a new training plan which sees you doing a lot more running – if your body isn’t used to the intensity of exercise, you may develop shin splints. Try and build up gradually, rather than making huge changes to your regime overnight.
  • Running on hard surfaces: While pavements make a great, smooth surface to run on, they’re also tough on your feet and muscles. Try running on grass, woodchip or other softer surfaces where possible.
  • Overpronating: Overpronation happens when your feet roll inwards too far when you’re jogging. This can add additional stress to your legs. Choose supportive shoes for overpronation.
  • Running in worn out or inappropriate shoes: Running shoes are designed for the stress that running puts on your feet. If you’re wearing general exercise shoes that aren’t specifically designed for running, then you could develop shin splints. The same goes for other sports, like tennis – proper footwear will help avoid putting too much strain on your feet.
  • Musculoskeletal problems and past injuries: Shin splints can also be caused by problems such as tight calf muscles, weak ankles or plantar fascia issues. Also, previous injuries may force your body to compensate in the way it redistributes stress. For all these kinds of problems, a visit to a physio is the solution.

Shin splints home remedies

If you’re suffering from shin splints which just won’t go away, it’s always smart to visit your GP or a physio. That said, try out some of the following ‘home remedies’ for treating milder cases:

  • top doing the activity which is causing shin splints: Hold off from the exercise which is causing your shin splints for at least one month – or perhaps longer if you’ve been ‘running through the pain’ and have noticed them get worse. Rest your legs and, in the meantime, take up a different, low/no-impact sport, such as cycling, using a cross-trainer or swimming.
  • Gradually return to the exercise: If you’ve taken a couple of weeks off your running, tennis or other exercise to rest your shin splints, try and avoid the temptation to immediately return to maximum workouts. Instead, shift slowly back in, doing the activity for shorter amounts of time and only gradually increasing intensity.
  • Use ice packs: If you’re in pain, wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas in a towel and hold it against the shin for at least 15 to 20 minutes a few times a day.
  • Take pain relief medication: Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol can help reduce shin splint discomfort.

Back in no time

Shin splints are one of those annoying, all too common kinds of injuries that affect most runners at some point – not to mention players of other sports, like tennis, handball, volleyball and any activity which sees you running and jumping. The good news is that shin splints are rarely serious and heal relatively fast – meaning you’ll be back to your old exercise regime before long.