Shin splints: The runner's pain

Be aware that when you begin a vigorous running program, you may develop shin splints.

Shin splints are a common injury for runners

“Shin splints is one of the most common overuse injury for runners, and it is often the result of runners who are not ideally conditioned when beginning a vigorous training program,” says Britt Marcussen, MD, associate clinical professor of family practice at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and staff physician at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

Shin splints describes the pain and discomfort a runner feels on either side of the shin bone, called the tibia. Some people start a running program to lose weight, improve fitness, or to train for competition--in all cases shin splints can occur. As you run, the muscles that lift the foot complete that motion more than 1,500 times per mile, and your legs absorb two to three times your body weight. High mileage, running surfaces, running intensity, and shoe choice can also contribute to injuries during running, Marcussen says.

How to prevent shin splints in runners

“I tell runners to gradually ramp up their mileage and intensity,” Marcussen says.  Too fast and too soon is a common mechanism for all kinds of running related injury.  Cross training and in particular maintaining a strong core can help prevent injury.

“Take a day off or switch activities to give legs a rest now and then,” Marcussen says. “Take the time to get at least a 10- to 15-minute warm-up before a run and cool down afterward. Also take the time to train your core musculature with activities such as yoga.”

How to treat shin splints

If shin splints develops, you can massage the painful area with ice eight to ten minutes, two to three times per day, especially after workouts, Marcussen says.

“You can take ibuprofen for one to two weeks, according to label directions, to help reduce pain in the leg muscles.”

Shin spints is not commonly dangerous or damaging but continuing to try to train through it despite worsening pain can be a sign that you are developing a stress fracture. 

“The best advice is to seek care if your pain is not settling down in a week or two,” Marcussen advises.

For more information about shin splints and other runners' injuries, talk to your physician.

Last reviewed: 
July 2017

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