Common Running Injuries: Shin Splints
Brooke E. Forester, PhD
Assistant Professor Health, Physical Education, and Leisure Studies
University of South Alabama

One of the most common overuse injuries experienced by runners of all ages and experience levels is shin splints. “Shin splints” is a catch-all term that is used to describe any lower leg pain occurring between the knee and the ankle. Shin splints are a rather nebulous diagnosis; the term Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) has come more into vogue recently in orthopedic circles. MTSS, which occurs in the inner part of a runner’s lower leg. It is a dull, aching feeling that can plague runners for weeks or even months if not treated carefully. Those who suffer from shin splints may experience the lower leg pain throughout their workout, some notice pain at the beginning of the workout and after the workout is completed, and still others only experience the pain after the workout is complete. If left untreated this sensation of lower leg pain may lead to more severe chronic injuries such as stress fractures.

Why do shin splints occur? Multiple factors are believed to cause shin splints including:

  • A sudden increase in mileage
  • An increase in intensity
  • Repetitive training on hard surfaces such as asphalt or
  • Poor Biomechanics or running form
  • Lack of conditioning
  • Improperly fitted shoes

Current research questions the aforementioned causes. Some researchers now believe a main cause of shin splints is the high-tech, heavily cushioned training shoes currently popular with runners. Highly engineered shoes allow athletes to land on their heels while running which creates a greater force impacting the lower leg. You can find more information on barefoot running here.

Methods to alleviate shin splints are listed below. It is always recommended athletes see a Certified Athletic Trainer or Medical Doctor to better define exactly what is causing their lower leg pain and to obtain a detailed treatment plan. Those with minor lower leg pain may alleviate symptoms with RICE!

  • Rest – 7-10 days minimum; Pool running may be substitute to help maintain
    aerobic fitness.
  • Ice – 15-20 minutes, four to eight times per day. Easy Tip: Place a small paper cup full of water in the freezer. Once frozen, take out of the freezer and rub the ice up and down the affected leg. Simply peel off the paper as the ice melts. Refreeze the unused portion for the next ice session.
  • Compression – An elastic bandage or compression sleeve may be used to help with swelling. Should a compression wrap be used, be sure the wrap is loose enough to allow circulation below the bandaged area. Should pain occur, loosen the wrap.
  • Elevation – Particularly at night, the affected leg(s) should be elevated above the heart to help with pain and swelling.

Likewise, runners should be sure their shoes are properly fitted. Specialty running stores typically provide proper fitting with a shoe purchase. Be sure new shoes are purchased every 350-500 miles. Lastly, orthotics or neoprene inserts may provide some relief for those suffering with shin splints. Neoprene sleeves that retain heat may also provide relief and support. With proper training and treatment shin splints may be alleviated completely. Conservative treatment is always best. Runners endure a considerable amount of physical pain depending on the intensity and duration of their workouts. Pain from shin splints is an unwelcome accompaniment on any run, and is often a pain which can be avoided completely.