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Why Did I Get Shin Splints?

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute
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You know that sharp pain that hits with every step when you’re running? It’s not normal! In fact, there’s a good chance that it may be caused by shin splints. Shin splints, among the most common injuries incurred by runners, are caused by the separation of muscle from the shin bone, which leads to inflammation and that pain you’ve been feeling when you take a running stride.

There are several different actions that may cause you to develop shin splints, and each one comes with its own solution.  Ever wonder why you get shin splints? We've got all the info you need!

Bad Shoes
One common cause of shin splints is exercising in shoes that are worn out and don’t provide proper arch support. Shoes, even ones that fit perfectly, aren’t meant to last forever. If you’ve logged more than 300 miles, it’s time to start shoe shopping. Sneakers should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles. If you wear them for longer than their appropriate lifetime, you’re putting yourself at risk of shin splints.

If bad footwear is at the root of your shin pain, you’ll need to switch your shoes up after you’ve recovered from your injury. And, even with the new shoes, you may want to invest in a set of custom orthotics to prevent a recurrence of your shin splint once you return to your regular training schedule.

Ramping Up Your Training
Another common way to develop shin splints is engaging in a sudden increase in the frequency or intensity of your workouts. In safe exercise routines, we include rest periods in between intense workouts. During these rest periods, scar tissue can form, helping support the healing of muscles that may have been damaged by the impact of the workout. If, however, you don’t allow yourself the appropriate healing time, that scar tissue either may not have the time to form or may be damaged. If this occurs, you will likely experience the separation of bone from muscle that characterizes shin splints.

Trouble With Other Muscles
Weak ankle muscles and/or tight Achilles tendons are also often to blame when it comes to people dealing with shin splints. When the muscles and tendons of your lower legs aren’t up to fully performing their duties, the muscles in the front of your leg have to work overtime. If forced to do more than their fair share, these muscles can become inflamed; the situation will mimic overuse injuries that occur from over training. And, the result will be the same: shin splints!

Switching Surfaces
Chances are, as a runner, the risk factors we’ve discussed already aren’t new to you, but here’s one that might be. If you suddenly change running surfaces (treadmill to pavement, track to trail) that can put you at risk of shin splints as well; a harder or less even surface than what your body is already used to may put additional stress on the muscles that support your run, leading to injury.

Symptoms of Shin Splints
Aside from pain when you walk or run, there are a several other signs that will let you know you’re dealing with shin splints. Symptoms include:

  • Pain that’s terrible at the start of a workout, but begins to lessen as you keep exercising, only to return again towards the end of training (note: pushing through is not recommended when your workout hurts. Continuing the same motion can make your injury even worse.)
  • Pain that’s located on the outer edge of your leg, right near your shin bone and below your knee.
  • Pain is felt in a broad area, usually in a stretch of leg that’s about four to six inches long.  

 

Once you suspect that you have shin splints, it’s important to briefly stop running until you can see your podiatrist. While your instinct may be to stop running until your shins stop hurting, doing so could actually get you going on a vicious cycle of re-injury. Our goal at Mountain West Foot and Ankle is to keep you training whenever  possible; with a shin splint injury, we can introduce stretches to your routine and reduce your activity level without completely stopping your workouts, allowing your body to stay strong while you heel. Athletes need doctors that understand their passion; for any athletic injury, come see Dr. Brandt Gibson. He’ll work hard to keep you on track with all your running goals.

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