Shin Splints

Why do I get pains in my shins when I run?

Our mini guide to running induced shin pain

If you have not experienced it yourself then you will more than likely know somebody within your running community whom has been hindered by painful shins at some point or another.  This article does not attempt to diagnose the cause of shin pain as to do this you would need to be examined thoroughly by a professional such as a doctor or physiotherapist, however it does explore several possibilities.

The main cause and probably the most commonly known cause of shin pain in runners is something called medial tibial stress syndrome.  In laymen’s terms this is ‘shin splints’.  Shin splints can be extremely painful and significantly impact on your running experience.  Listen to your body and as soon as you feel this type of pain explore whether any of these adjustments could apply to you. 

Are you wearing the correct footwear? If you over pronate when you run it maybe that you are wearing trainers that are not suitable causing increased stress on the shins.  Are your trainers old and without appropriate cushioning/support? Do you have good range of movement in the ankles and hips? Poor ankle mobility can cause shins to compensate increasing pain symptoms.  Also tight calves and quadriceps muscles increase stress through the shins as they fail to absorb the impact.  There can be other causes but these are the most obvious.

To prevent shin splints and look after your calves consider a running assessment in a specialised running shop to gain advice on the best trainers for you.  Work on range of movement and flexibility regularly and always warm up properly before a run.  Another rule of thumb is not to increase mileage by more than 10% per week whether you are just starting out or are training for a specific event.  It is also wise to vary your running terrain so that you are not constantly pounding hard pavement.  Maybe run on grass one day in a local park or on a running track if you are lucky enough to have access to one.  Vary your training to include other activities to improve your cardio vascular system that don’t involve impact such as swimming or cycling.  Also add in a strength training to help strengthen supporting muscles.

An alternative cause of painful shins could be a muscle tear or pulled/sprained calf.  This is particularly common in new runners or those increasing weekly mileage too quickly although can occur as the result of a sudden movement or change in direction especially if muscle not warmed up.  The gastrocnemius is the largest muscle in the lower leg and somewhat prone to strains or tears in runners.  Tears can vary in severity from a small tear in muscle fibres causing a mild ache which sorts itself out with 2 weeks rest to a severe rupture of the muscle which can take months and months to recover from. This is extremely painful and will impact on all weight bearing activities such as walking.  There could be bruising and swelling and be painful to touch occasionally needing surgery to fix.

A final cause of shin pain could be due to a stress fracture in one of the bones in the lower leg.  The most common scenario here would be a small crack in the tibia which develops gradually over time.  Recovery would generally involve rest for 4-6 weeks. Female runners with below average BMI or osteoporosis are particularly high risk for this kind of running related injury.

If your pain is not heeling with rest then it may be worth a professional opinion but a lot of the time this is the only way to improve symptoms along with occasional ice bath if you are brave enough.  Do not do too much too soon which can be very frustrating but worth it in the long run.