The longer days and warmer weather of spring can be invigorating, enticing runners of all levels to up their games. But while this time of year may motivate one to increase the duration, frequency and intensity of their runs, Bend physical therapist Rob Hollander cautions that if the increase is too sudden, it could put the runner at the risk of a painful condition known as shin splints.
“Shin splints are not a serious condition, but they can be painful and may become limiting with people’s workouts and daily activities if left untreated” said Hollander, co-owner of Alpine Physical Therapy in Bend.
Known in the medical world as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints may present as soreness, tenderness and swelling along the inside of the shin bone (tibia). At first, the pain may only be felt during a run or workout, Hollander said, but the condition may progress to the point where pain may be felt well after exercise.
With about 3 million reported cases per year in the U.S., shin splints account for 13 to 17 percent of all running-related injuries. Dancers and military recruits also record a high incidence of shin splints.
“People who take part in activities that involve high-impact or repetitive stress on the legs are most susceptible to developing shin splints, especially during a time when the intensity of their exercise has suddenly increased,” said Hollander. “This increased stress can overwork the muscles, tendons and bone tissue in the lower leg, which can manifest as pain if runners push workout intensity too fast without adequate recovery”.
Common causes of shin splints are: increasing workout intensity too quickly, strength imbalances, improper form, and foot alignment issues. If you have just recently developed shin splints rest days, ice and gentle compression/massage may be easy techniques to manage symptoms while your body is adapting to new workouts.
However if symptoms are continuing or recurrent, it’s important, Hollander added, that runners and others susceptible to shin splints take steps to prevent the onset of the condition. Consider the following tips:
Avoid overdoing it. When increasing the distance, duration, intensity and/or frequency of an exercise regimen such as running, do so gradually. Slowly building your fitness level over time is safer on the body than making quick, monumental leaps that can overload your shins. Time frames to increase workout load vary individually, however, alternating workout/rest days or slowly building up intensity, followed by lower intensity days are good places to start.
Wear proper shoes. Wearing sport specific shoes and matching the right show to your body/foot type is important along with replacing shoes regularly that have reached their lifetime. Typical guidelines to replace 300-500 miles. Paying attention to your body is important as well, if you are getting increased pain the shoes are aging, it’s time.
Mix up your workouts. We all have our preferred ways of exercising, but mix it up once in a while. Alternate running with, say, cycling or swimming – something that still challenges you but with less impact on the body.
Analyze your movement. A thorough, biomechanical running analysis performed by a physical therapist can identify movement patterns that may be leading to the onset of shin splints. You may find out that one small tweak in your running form can keep your shins healthy and pain-free.
Seek treatment with PT. If pain continues, teaming up with a physical therapist is an ideal step for those serious about pain and injury prevention. A physical therapist is trained to analyze your entire kinetic chain to identify any imbalances or weaknesses that could put you at risk of pain or injury. Benefits include a personalized treatment approach with progression to self management and return to activity.