Shin splints are sure a pain! Pun intended. And they are very very common among runners, beginning and experienced alike. So, what do you do? Do you suck it up and run through them? Do you take weeks off till they feel better? Depends. Here's a few tips for treatment, prevention and running through it.
It is good to understand what is causing your shin pain so you can understand how to best treat it. Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are an overuse injury. It happens when your body isn't used to the pounding it's getting. Sometimes you get shin splints when you are running in old shoes, that's when I always start to get them. Sometimes it's because you are running on too hard of surfaces (i.e. cement) and sometimes they just come.
Collapsing arches can also cause shin splints. I know a bunch of tape jobs that are great for this, but much too hard to explain without demonstration. If you think this is your problem, go to your local running store and ask them to help fit you with some orthopedic inserts.
Unless your shin splints are so incredibly painful that you think your legs are going to break, there's a lot of at-home treatments you can do that don't require expensive visits to a physical therapist (keep in mind, I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be).
First and easiest treatment is ice. Ice after your run. My favorite way to ice my shins is an ice massage. Get some paper cups and fill them with water. Stick them in the freezer. When you are finished with your run, pull one out and partly unwrap it. You now have a nice little block of ice to massage your shins with. Do it for 12-15 minutes.
The other easy treatment is massage without ice. This is pretty painful, so if you can talk a spouse or friend into doing it for you it might be better.
There's a bunch of different exercises you can do to strengthen your shin muscles (anterior tibialis muscle). I will give you two ideas. The first you can do anywhere, home, work, school, etc. The versatility makes it easy to do. While you are sitting down, draw the alphabet in the air with your foot. That's it! Simple. Do it 2-4 times a day.
The other exercise is to get a cup of marbles and spill them out on the floor. Now pick them up with your toes and put them back in the cup (do this sitting). Fun, right?
The best way to treat shin splints is to not ever get them! The exercises I talked about above are great to do for any runner. Do them 3 or 4 times a week and you will strengthen your muscles and decrease your risk of injury.
Also, make sure to replace your running shoes when they are worn out. I will do a whole post about knowing when to replace your shoes, but basically running shoes will last about 300-500 miles. Or when the tread starts to wear really thin. Or when you can see compression marks on the side.
Run on softer surfaces a few times a week. Concrete is the hardest surface you can run on.
Surfaces in order of Hardest to Softest
> Rocky trail
> Dirt trail
Running Through the Pain
Generally you can run through shin splints. Now if they start to hurt so bad you cannot run or walk or if it hurts in a pinpointed spot, you should definitely give your body a rest and possibly see a doctor.
However, if you want to keep running, and you can handle the ache, then go for it. Listen to your body though. And make sure to run on soft surfaces like grass whenever possible. Do not forget to ice after every run.
Now get out there, fight off those injuries and train hard! I hope this helps those of you battling injury!
Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.