Here’s a great question that came in for the recent MTA podcast episode on Injury.
In this Q & A, I discuss why addressing the root cause of reoccurring shin splints is critical in order to avoid injury and lost training days.
Reoccurring Shin Splints
I’m signed up to run my first marathon at the end of May in Traverse City, Michigan. A couple weeks ago, my shins started bothering me. I ran track and cross country all four years in college, and I usually would get a little bout of shin splints at the beginning of the winter season, but they would go away after my body acclimated to spending more time on the treadmill and pavement.
Last year, I got shin splints in the spring. I tried to treat them the same way as I’d done in the winter (lots of icing, maybe a day or two off, stretching, massages, etc.), but this time they just didn’t go away.
The last two weeks I’ve been taking it really easy during the week and biking and rollerblading for the equivalent time that I would spend running, but I did run both my long runs because I didn’t think I could handle the boredom of being on the elliptical or bike for two hours. However, the next couple days they hurt more than normal.
Do you have any more suggestions for shin splints? I just bought a pair of compression socks. I ice once a day. I massage my calves with a lacrosse ball. If I continue to back off on the running, but maintain a high level of cross training, do you think I will still be able to run the
marathon on May 27?
Dr. Ben’s Answer
Thanks for the question, Kate! I am not sure you will get this answer before your marathon date, but I wish you the best of luck! Your question brings up some great talking points on shin splints. This is something I have also personally dealt with, so I know how painful they can be.
Based off the history you provided, it sounds like your issue is likely more of a body mechanics/biomechanical issue versus the other most likely scenario of a person running too far and too fast downhill when they haven’t trained for it. (Yes, I have done that.)
In your particular case of experiencing repeated bouts of shin splints, then there is likely something biomechanical about your running mechanics and/or a muscle or range of motion imbalance issue. It sounds like you’re using some of the typical tricks to help to reduce shin splint pain such as wearing compression socks and new shoes as well as utilizing self-mobilization (all of which I recommend).
If the shin splints continue to reoccur, then you’re not addressing the true cause of the injury. Often upon a physical examination of a client, I will find a very inflexible foot with tight calves and possibly tightness in the hips and poor hip strength.
My advice would be to have a physical therapist (PT) that has experience treating runners to perform an exam and look for any potential biomechanical issues that may have led to the shin splints. The PT then could recommend a home program to address the issue. In the meantime, continue to work on self-mobilization. Also, continue to wear the compression socks and proper footwear.
- Find the root cause of the shin splints. Consider an evaluation with a physical therapist (PT) that specializes in running related injuries.
- Address any tightness in the calves and/or loss of hip mobility.
- Work on ankle strength and hip strengthening activities.
- Continue with treatments such as stretching, mobilization with a lacrosse ball, and foam rolling to help with temporary pain relief.
- If this continues to bother you, be sure that you are dealing with a true case of shin splints and not something else such as a stress fracture.
Kate, I hope that helps. Good luck!
For those who want to dive deeper, the Resilient Runner program includes detailed videos and rehabilitation guides on how to effectively SELF-TREAT shin splints.
Become a Resilient Runner
Are you struggling with a running injury? Overuse running injuries are typically due to controllable variables. A vast majority of these injuries could then be considered preventable. However, rarely do runners know that they are about to commit a training error that will place them on the path to injury and pain. This ultimately leads to lost training days, missed races, and unmet goals.
That is why Trevor, Angie and I have created the Resilient Runner program. It’s designed to help you prevent and avoid injury so that you can continue to train and compete in order to meet your goals. If you do sustain an injury, you’ll be able to refer to in-depth information on how to quickly recover from all of the most common running related injuries.