Don’t let shin splints slow you down

Shin splints. That dull aching feeling above your ankle or below your knee that won’t go away. We’ve all heard of them, and many of us have experienced the pain, but what exactly are they?

Most commonly coinciding with the beginning of a new training regimen or the ramping up of training, medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) or shin splints are thought to be an inflammatory reaction on the outer membrane of the bone caused by overuse. Training too fast, too soon, too far, or on too little rest often results in injury.

Causes of shin splints

Oakland_Josie“Training error is the most definitive risk factor for development of MTSS,” said Josie Stockland, a senior physical therapist for Sanford POWER. “Overtraining or something as simple as not changing shoe wear or running in uncomfortable shoes may play a role. Running on hard surfaces or frequent hills is thought to play a potential role as well.”

Stockland has a special interest in injury prevention and rehabilitation with endurance athletes, dancers, gymnasts and pregnancy/postpartum care in the female athlete. As a former collegiate runner, she knows all too well about the frustration of being injured.

“I made some of the same common errors that lead to injury as the athletes I see in clinic today,” said Stockland. “Now, every time I have an injury or setback in my training, the silver lining is that injuries truly are a learning opportunity, lesson in empathy, and help me better relate to my patients.”

Preventing shin splints

As with many running-related injuries, consistency is key. The most important factor in preventing an overuse injury is avoiding sudden changes or increases in training. Building strength in your hips and core is another great way to avoid shin splints. The muscles around the lower leg and ankle should be loaded to help increase capacity for the impact.

For athletes who are dealing with shin splints, a temporary period of reducing impact activities, such as running, helps allow the irritation to subside.

“Once the athlete can tolerate some running pain free, careful attention and planning should be paid when increasing either intensity or mileage to avoid recurrent irritation,” said Stockland. “Athletes may also find that a change in shoe wear or different running surface helps their pain.”

Shin splints vs fractures

The biggest concern in diagnosing shin splints is ruling out more serious injuries.

“A few other injuries can present with similar symptoms yet have severe consequences if incorrectly identified and proper management is missed,” said Stockland. “Stress fractures risk worsening or progressing to full fractures with improper management, and compartment syndrome can jeopardize neurovascular supply.”

Help for shin splints

Sanford POWER offers sport and activity-specific training that incorporates the latest in strength development, speed, agility, plyometrics and explosive power. A dedicated team of sports medicine professionals will be available in the event of an injury and get you back to your performance level quickly and safely.

For more information, visit the physical therapists at Sanford POWER.