Preventing a Season of Shin Splints

Your star runner on the track team is losing her speed. Once unintimidated by races and long runs, she now struggles to jog a simple mile. She may be enduring a shin splint.

What are shin splints?
Shin splints are a common lower leg injury for runners. In the medical world, shin splints are more commonly referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome. Shin splints refer to pain/tenderness or swelling along the inner part of your lower leg. 

What are some common causes?
Shin splints are caused by repetitive stress to the connective tissue that connects your muscles to your tibia (shin bone). Common causes include overuse or overtraining such as: an athlete intensifying or changing his or her workout routine; improper biomechanics of the athlete’s gait pattern while running; lower leg weakness or other muscle imbalances; or faulty foot mechanics.

How can I help my athletes prevent shin splints?
Bring these tips to your athletes for shin splint prevention:

  • Cross training can help athletes avoid overuse of their legs with activities, such as biking or swimming, to lessen the impact on the lower leg.
  • Getting a running analysis from a professional who assesses individuals’ running mechanics may help address any problematic movements.
  • Strengthening the calf muscles with exercises, such as heel raises or toe walking, helps prevent shin splints.
  • Strengthening other key muscle groups can ensure proper running mechanics. Include hips and core exercises in the training routine.
  • Using proper footwear or arch supports, especially if the athlete has faulty foot mechanics, can also prevent shin splints. Shoes should be replaced about every 500 miles.

One of my athletes has shin splints. What are some tips for a good recovery?

  • Rest. The injured athlete should avoid the activity that is causing shin splint pain.
  • Ice. Place ice over the painful area on the shins.
  • Suggest lower impact activities, such as biking or swimming, which should not increase his or her pain. These activities also help the athlete stay active.
  • Gradually help the athlete return to activity. Practices should be less demanding on the shins.
  • If what is listed above is not helping, have the athlete consult with a physician on appropriate pain relievers.

By Alisa Darling

Physical Therapist at Avera Sports

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