a man running on the sidewalk

Do your shins ache after going for a run? There’s a good chance you could have shin splints. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the causes of this common overuse injury and how physiotherapy can help. 

What are shin splints?

Shin splints, referred to medically as medial tibial stress syndrome, is the term used to describe pain along your shin bone, which is located in the front of your lower leg. 

Shin splints are characterised by soreness, pain or mild swelling around your shin bone. In most cases, the pain tends to fade away when you stop exercising. In more severe cases, the pain may be ongoing and can potentially lead to a stress fracture. 

Shin splints are typically associated with running, but they can affect almost anyone who engages in physical activity. Athletes who play a sport that requires a lot of running such as basketball, netball, tennis and football are at higher risk for developing shin splints. 

Common causes of shin splints

Shin splints are a cumulative stress disorder. Over time, repetitive use can put excessive stress on the bones, muscles and joints that surround your shin bone and interfere with your body’s natural ability to heal itself. 

Shin splints commonly occur after making sudden changes to your level of physical activity. For example, starting a new training programme or increasing the intensity of your workouts can increase your chances of getting shin splints. 

Other risk factors include:

  • Flat feet
  • Muscular imbalance (commonly weak thighs, buttocks or core)
  • Inappropriate footwear
  • Running on concrete, uneven terrain or downhill
  • Tight lower leg muscles
  • Being overweight

How to prevent shin splints

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent shin splints, there are many things you can do to reduce the risk. 

Pick the right footwear

One of the simplest ways to prevent shin splints is to invest in good shoes. If you’re not sure what to look for, talk to a footwear specialist who will be able to help you pick out some shoes with appropriate support and cushioning. Depending on the anatomy of your feet, you may also benefit from shock-absorbing shoe inserts or arch supports. 

Gradually increase workout intensity

Don’t jump straight in the deep end when starting a new workout regimen. Instead, slowly increase the intensity of your workouts each week to help your body adjust and gradually build strength. 

Improve your technique

Poor running technique is a common cause of shin splints. For instance, landing on your heel with an extended leg increases the impact of your steps, while dorsiflexing your foot and/or pushing off with your toes can put unnecessary stress on your shin and calf muscles. Your physiotherapist can analyze your movements and help you improve your running form. 

Avoid running on hard and uneven surfaces

You can also prevent shin splints by being mindful of the surface beneath your feet. Reduce the impact on your legs by exercising on soft, flat surfaces such as a sports field or running track. 

How to treat shin splints

In most cases, treating shin splints involves taking time off from your physical activities and giving your body a chance to rest and recover. 

During this downtime, your physician may recommend keeping your legs elevated and applying ice packs to your shins to reduce swelling. You can also take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen to help with pain and swelling.

Physio for shin splints

Physiotherapy can also play an important role in treating shin splints. Your physio can guide you through the treatment process, monitor your progress and help you safely scale up your level of physical activity as your body recovers. Your physio may also be able to show you some stretches that provide pain relief by alleviating tension in the muscles that surround the shin bone. 

Physiotherapy can also help reduce the risk of repeating the injury. Your physio can help you identify potential issues with your biomechanics and show you how you can improve your running form. In addition, your physio can identify muscular imbalances that may put you at higher risk of injury and devise an exercise programme tailored to your needs. 

Start physio treatment for shin splints

If you suspect you may be suffering from shin splints, dial back your workouts and book in to see your local North Shore physiotherapist as soon as possible.