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Shin Splints

Picture this:

In a burst of optimism you have decided to get back into running. You’re going to be responsible, and so you try to take things nice and slow. You sign yourself up for an event in the next few months so that you have something to work towards – goal setting, right? Training is going well, distance and pace are progressing smoothly, your cardio fitness just keeps getting better and better. Maybe, you think, this is what you were born to do?...

And then, boom.

Shin splints.

The term “shin splints” can mean something different to you based upon your own experience or what you have heard from others. Generally, it refers to pain along the front of your shin or most commonly along the inner border.

When I was training for the Great Ocean Road running festival last year, my shin splints were an intense pain and tightness that developed along the inner border of my lower shin. It would feel okay during warm up but would gradually worsen throughout the run, at its worst preventing me from going for longer than 15 minutes.

For other people, “shin splints” might be a vague shin pain that actually decreases throughout the run – only to rear its ugly head afterwards or the next morning. For others still, shin pain might be a less intense ache that is relieved by appropriate warm up and a good after-stretch or ice.

But in its worst form, usually when gone untreated for a while, shin splints can be felt on each and every step; an intense splintering pain that can be truly debilitating.

Regardless of what form your shin splints take, I understand that they can be incredibly disheartening – devastating, even - and may threaten to spell out failure in achieving your running goals.

The good news is that most shin pain can be managed by addressing running biomechanics, training load, and any underlying muscle weakness or dysfunction. Treatment and recovery time will vary depending on the nature of your shin splints. Too often people ignore their symptoms in the hope that they will get better with time, but this can lead to more tissue damage and a much longer recovery process. If you seek help early, your physio can help guide your training program and provide specific strengthening exercises and targeted muscle release to keep you on track (literally!).

My top tips for avoiding shin pain when returning to/first getting into running:

  • Introduce your body to the movement patterns. If it has been a while since you ran, or if you spend a lot of your time sitting, then it can be a good idea to introduce your body to the idea of running first. Walking, elliptical (cross-trainer) sessions, and some light strength exercise in the weeks before you hit the pavement can help prepare your muscles for the high-impact nature of running.

  • Take it slow! If you used to run kilometres on end without a care in the world, and if you’re anything like me, then you need someone to tell you that -- unfortunately -- feeling confident and knowing how well you have performed in the past does not mean your poor legs can pick up where they left off! Progress your pace and distance by listening to your body, not your ego.

  • Change only one variable at a time. Distance and pace are not the only things that you can tweak to challenge your body. Remember that new shoes, different terrain, and changes in the amount/type of exercise you do away from running can all affect the way your body moves and responds. Pick one variable to focus on at a time.

Running is a great way to move your body, and it’s a lot more fun pain-free! But alas, if despite your best efforts shin pain still sneaks up on you (like mine did), come in and see me or one of the other great physios at In Sride Health Clinic for assessment and early management strategies.

Our podiatrists are also available to give you footwear advice or prescribe insoles/orthotics to reduce the impact of any foot posture or biomechanical anomalies which may contribute to shin pain.

Dil completed her first half marathon in 2014 and most recently ran the Great Ocean Road half marathon. She currently stays active through a combination of running, yoga, pilates and strength training. Dil can be found instructing pilates at our studio on Union Road and is available for inividual consultations at our clinic at the Leisure Centre.

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