What are shin splints?
Shin Splints is more common in distant runners than sprinters, but I’ve seen long sprinters and 800 meter runners get shin splints from too much volume, especially “intensive tempo” interval training.
In short, it is caused by overuse and abuse.
The term “shin splints” refers to pain and tenderness along or just behind the inner edge of the tibia or “shin bone”. You can also aggravate it doing repetitive dorsi-flexion and flexion movements. The affected area is usually along the lower half of the tibia, anywhere from a few inches above the ankle to about half-way up the shin.
The exact term is periostitis, or inflammation of the periostium of the tibia which is the sheath surrounding the bone tissue.
The severity of shin splints can be mistaken as stress fractures, or worse, chronic compartment syndrome. It is unfair to say shin splints can lead to stress fractures or chronic compartment syndrome, but the cause is the same: over use and abuse.
Mary Decker is ill-famous for having chronic compartment syndrome and underwent the surgical procedure known as a fasciotomy. In this procedure, the connective tissue sheath surrounding the muscles is opened to allow more expansion of the muscles during exercise. Sometimes, more than one surgery is required.
The cause is from the foot strike to the ground, normally heel-toe in distance runners, where the energy transfer takes place (to allow an action/reaction mechanism), then the push off with the toe or ball of your feet.
Remember the First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Thus the shock of the foot strike gets absorbed or transferred into the body, which is the lower leg.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
Tip #1 – Run on Soft Surfaces
Jack Foster represented New Zealand in the Olympic Marathon at age 39 (1972 Munich) and age 43 (1976 Montreal). He is best known for his the silver medal at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in a Master’s World Record of 2:11:19 at the age of 41!
He did all of his mileage on a golf course which he claims to help his longevity.
The harder the ground, the greater the shock. Thus asphalt and concrete are hard. Wood chip trails and grass is softer. Trail running, like the DVM, is another beast.
Even doing intervals on a grass or cinder surface is better than a synthetic track. We do all of our tempo 100m runs on grass surfaces.
Tip #2 – Replace Shoes Often
Newer shoes vs. worn out shoes makes a huge difference. The inside padding is often long gone before the the outer rubber sole shows signs of excessive wear. Thus I recommend changing shoes every 400 miles or 600 km, just like changing your oil in your car. Every runner has a running log, right? Same with shoes. Treat your shoes like an oil change – even before you need to.
Tip #3 – Keep a Log
Track all the variables in your training plan, including volume (distance and intensity), type of run or intervals, hills, fatigue, surface, even weather conditions.
Tip # 4 – Strengthening and Stretching
Aside from the obvious tips above, the answer really comes down to strengthening and stretching.
Tip #5 – Proper Biomechanics
It’s also possible that your biomechanics is affecting your stride pattern, and thus the end result are shin splints.
If you know a facility that performs gait analysis, then you can determine if you overpronate or oversupinate which may cause shin splints.
The topic of orthotics is another area of controversy and discussion, which I’ll save for a later post.
Training through Shin Splints
Let’s look at a typical training and injury cycle:
Do you see a pattern here?
Once you get better, if you continuously do the same thing, it will re-appear again. Then the vicious cycle starts all over again.
Here are training tips to run through shin splints:
Tip #1 – Cross Training: Bike or Pool.
This will reduce the pounding of the pavement going into your shins. Pool running is great, even for sprinters. If you don’t float very well, you can get a flotation device in the form of a belt.
Tip #2 – Heat, then Ice.
Some athletes like to apply heat before the workouts using an Infrared Heating Pad. Increase blood flow and increased circulation simulates a warm-up.
Often an athlete with shin splints would feel their shins sore before practice, but the pain would subside after an effective warm-up. As well, the natural endorphins and enkephalines would kick in during the workout, only to be back in pain afterward.
Tip #3 – Tape or Compression Sleeves or Wraps.
Taping or the use of Shin Splint Compression Sleeve or Wraps are also effective but temporary relief while training. I’m not a trained Physiotherapist, so I won’t go in detail on how to tape shin splints properly. Ask your trainer.
How to Treat Shin Splints
Tip #1 – RICE
Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. These are the 4 basic guidelines for any athletic injury.
Tip #2 – Supplements that help Reduce Inflammation.
Can supplements help shin splints? Omega-3 fatty acids in above average dosages can do reduce inflammation. On the medical side, anti-inflammatories can also be used, but it will just mask the pain, and at the same time, try to shrink the swelling.
Tip #3 – Massage.
Deep tissue massage around the affected area but not the inflamed area as you’ll just irritate more if you do.
Tip #4 – Stretching & Strengthening.
So, it really comes down to stretching & strengthening your lower leg, but only after the inflammation is controlled, which I’ll save for another time, or you can watch the video or read the book on Shin Splints.