Runner’s Foe: Shin Splints
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Litzy, MSPT host of the radio show Healthy, Wealthy & Smart. She has generously offered to answer some questions here each month. If you missed the first Q & A check it out here.
This month’s Q&A is all about shin splints.
Q: We’ve all heard of the shin splints, but what exactly is it?
A: Shin splints, also called medial tibial stress syndrome, is a very frustrating injury for runners. A shin splint can range from an irritation of the tibial bone to a stress fracture of the tibial bone or a tightness of the soft tissue around the tibia. When the soft tissue is involved it is called anterior compartment syndrome.
The main symptom of shin splints is pain along the bony part of the tibia when running or exercising. The pain may last even after you are finished with your run. If you are experiencing extreme pressure along with pain that you have only when running (the pain and pressure usually goes away after you are finished running/exercising) this is more indicative of anterior compartment syndrome. All of these aspects of shin splints can be very serious and should not be ignored!
Q: What are three things a runner can do to prevent shin splints?
A: #1) Ramp up your weekly mileage by no more than 10%
#2) Don’t forget to strengthen your core and hip muscles!! These muscles are very important in stabilizing your pelvis and providing a strong base on which to run. This will help to improve your body mechanics, improve your foot placement during running, and may help to take some of the load off the foot, ankle, and knees.
#3) You may need new running sneakers!! Don’t forget to change out your sneakers every 400-500 miles! When buying new sneakers try to go to a store that will allow you to run on a treadmill for a few minutes or even run outside (if they do not have a treadmill) before you buy the sneakers. Some stores may even offer to videotape you on the treadmill to see if you are wearing the right shoe!
Q: What should one do at the first sign of shin pain or discomfort?
A: REST!!! Stop running for about 2 weeks and use ice for about 10-15 minutes a few times a day (always wrap the ice in a towel…do not place the ice directly on the skin). You can continue with cardio exercise such as swimming or the stationary bike as long as it does not increase your symptoms.
I also find that gentle stretching of the anterior aspect of the lower leg helps in both the bony and soft tissue types. Believe it or not a gentle stretch for the anterior lower leg is the prayer stretch. You want to hold the position for about 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times daily.
Q: When should you see a specialist about the problem?
A: If the pain and/or pressure does not subside after rest and ice for 2 weeks it is time to get to the doctor. You will need to get an MRI to rule out a stress fracture and get the correct diagnosis. Then of course, I would recommend you go straight to a physical therapist to help you through your recovery and return you safely to your running routine.
Karen Litzy, MSPT graduated from Misericordia University with a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy. She has over 14 years of experience as a licensed physical therapist in a variety of settings including inpatient hospital, school systems, outpatient orthopedic clinics, and Broadway shows. She is currently the owner of a concierges, home health physical therapy practice in New York City. She is also the host of the internet radio show Healthy Wealthy & Smart on www.talkingalternative.com. You can learn more about Karen on her website www.karenlitzy.com.