As we embark upon my favorite running and hiking season, Autumn, a nagging throbbing pain in the front of the shin can occur when mileage or duration are ramped up. Runners and other athletes often experience pain in the front of their shins that can ache with each step. It is common in dancers and runners. Termed “shin splints”, the pain is experienced when there is a rapid increase in exercise intensity or mileage for runners. It occurs when athletes change sports; for example, cross country season ends and the athlete is now playing basketball- the surface on which he or she is running has changed. Individuals who are flat footed or an “overpronate”, meaning there is no arch in the foot in the standing position, are likely to get this syndrome. The pain in the front of the shins may also indicate stress fractures which are tiny breaks in the bone.
Healing time varies among individuals. As expected, resting from running is necessary for healing. Cold packs are helpful to manage the pain and inflammation. Individuals may take anti-inflammatory medication (check with your doctor). Shoe inserts specific for your foot type to align and support the foot are usually indicated. Neoprene supports for the lower leg are helpful when returning to running. Stretching and strengthening exercises prescribed by a licensed physical therapist can improve your performance and pain. And a gradual return to exercise in necessary.
How do you know when you are ready to return to sports? First, during the injured period, it is important to stay fit with another activity such as swimming or biking. This will keep your muscles conditioned and you will return to 100% at a faster pace than if you did nothing. Good markers of readiness when returning to sport are the reduction of pain, full strength and flexibility and pain free running and jumping. It is important to listen to your body and allow it to heal completely to avoid further injury.
Wearing supportive shoes, stretching and warming up before you run will aid in preventing shin splints. And replacing shoes at regular intervals, which means long before there are holes in the soles!