Why Does Running Cause Shin Splints?

Running is a popular and common exercise that can be done almost anywhere. Whether you're new to the sport, or an experienced athlete, too much running can result in shin splints, a common overuse injury. Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are caused by stress on the bones and muscles in the front of the lower legs (via WebMD). The repetitive running motion can overwork the tendons and tissue, resulting in pain and inflammation.

Signs of shin splints may include tenderness, soreness, and mild swelling in your lower legs (per Mayo Clinic). Pain may lessen when you stop exercising, but continuous running may result in a worse injury like a stress fracture.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, shin splints often occur in individuals who begin a new exercise routine or increase their amount of activity too quickly. Runners aren't the only ones prone to shin splints, however. They're also commonly diagnosed in dancers, people with flat feet or high arches, high-impact sports athletes, and members of the military. Once identified, shin splints can be easily treated and improved.

How to treat and prevent shin splints

Shin splints should be immediately treated by decreasing activity to reduce pain and allow for healing (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). Other solutions include cold compress, stretching exercises, strength training, and pain reliever medication. While alleviating shin splints, alternative low impact exercises can be done like swimming, biking, yoga, or using the elliptical (per MedlinePlus). It may also be beneficial to consult a doctor or physical therapist to help with the pain. They can recommend exercises that will strengthen leg muscles and prevent shin splints in the future.

Shin splints can be avoided with proper training and an exercise routine. According to U.S. News & World Report, running mileage should be built up gradually, no more than 10% each week. Runners should dedicate time to warming up and cooling down before and after a run, stretching their muscles and tendons to minimize tension. Cross-training is another way to prevent shin splints by moving your body in different planes of motion. The varied movement strengthens your muscles and helps avoid overuse injury. It's also important to incorporate rest days to allow your body to recover from activity.

Once shin splints have been healed, runners can carefully return to exercising. Mileage should be approached gradually. Avoid rushing into full intensity and pullback if shin pain returns.