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The Treatment & Prevention Of Shin Splints

With the Sheffield city 10K race taking place last weekend, we thought a blog on a common running injury was needed! Running is a great form of exercise and we can give nothing but encouragement if you are considering taking up running as a hobby. Running gives amazing health benefits including improved cardiovascular health as well as physical and mental health benefits. Maybe most importantly, it gets us outside and away from the dreaded office environment!

But onto the topic in hand. Shin splints is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries in runners and can be a pain in the shin to manage! The aim of this blog is to provide information on what shin splints are, why we get them & how you can best manage them and avoid them in the future.

Medial tibial stress syndrome or more commonly known as shin splints is an exercise induced pain along the shinbone caused by repetitive loading stress during running. The causes of shin splints are still partly unclear, it’s hypothesised that the cause of pain is due to either soft tissue traction or a local bone stress reaction. Either way, a chronic inflammation of the muscles around the shinbone and bony changes are generally present.

Shin splints is most common in people who are new to running who run too far / fast for their potential or current runners who change their training program to increase distance, intensity or duration of their runs. Running on hard or uneven surfaces and worn out running shoes with poor shock absorbing capacity are other factors which contribute to shin splints. Biomechanical abnormalities such as foot arch abnormalities and over rotation of the foot are other common influencers. Muscle tightness & weakness is a key factor in shin splints, the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glute muscles need to be assessed for excessive tightness / weakness which may be contributing or even the cause of your pain.

Most people suffering from shin splints will describe a dull pain around the lower shinbone which often occurs in both legs. The pain felt during running often worsens with each step and doesn’t improve with further running. When shin splints get more severe, the pain could remain for several hours after stopping the aggravating activity.

The treatment of shin splints is predominantly conservative which means that invasive techniques such as injections and surgery is very rarely indicated, physiotherapy is key! In the initial phases of shin splints, 2-6 weeks rest from the aggravating activity eg running is recommended to improve symptoms and for a quick and safe return to running after a period of rest.

A physiotherapy consultation can be extremely beneficial to assess for any muscle tightness / weakness / imbalances / bio-mechanical abnormalities which may be contributing to your pain. Your physiotherapist will then be able to advise & implement an exercise program focusing on normalising these functional abnormalities. A large component of shin splints rehabilitation includes a graduated return to running program, whereby you will be advised to reduce your training conditions eg distance, intensity and frequency possibly by as much as 50%! After several weeks your physiotherapist will then guide you on gradual increases in training conditions by slowing increasing training intensity and duration so that your body will adapt to the increased training demands.

If you’re new to running it’s a helpful tip to know that you should change your running shoes approximately every 500 miles, as this is a distance whereby most running shoes lose up to 40% of their shock absorbing capabilities.

Shin splints is a common condition in running and it’s not worth pursuing the ‘wait & see approach’ to your rehabilitation. Therefore, come book in for your complimentary physiotherapy consultation to see how we can help you get back outside and running to your best ability!

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