Running is a popular sport or form of exercise for millions of people around the world. Although running has plenty of health benefits, it’s also associated with various injuries. One common injury I see in runners is medial tibial stress syndrome, more commonly known as shin splints. Shin splints can also occur in people who are participating in other high impact sports such as basketball, soccer, jumping or gymnastics.
Shin splints are an overuse injury that is characterized by a throbbing or aching pain along the front or inside edge of the shinbone (tibia). The pain intensifies during and after physical activity and feels better with rest, but the pain can come back as soon as you resume running.
There are several reasons why you might develop shin splints including:
It’s important that you don’t ignore or try to run through the pain because left untreated, shin splints can put you at risk for developing a tibial stress fracture. With stress fractures, the pain is usually focused on a small area as opposed to shin splints where the tenderness is typically a larger area. If rest, icing your shins, and taking it easy isn’t helping, it’s time to seek professional help.
Physical therapy can be a very effective means of treating shin splints. Your physical therapist will start with an initial physical exam that includes an assessment of your walking and running technique as well as the strength of various muscle groups such as your core, hamstrings, hips, and ankles. They will ask questions about your activity such as how often you’re running, how far you’re running, are you running on pavement or a treadmill, and what footwear you are wearing. The physical therapist will factor in all of these variables and come up with a personal treatment plan to get you stronger so you can continue running in a safe manner.
The good news is that, in most cases, you can continue running with some modifications while you’re being treated with physical therapy. Treatment plans vary depending on what your physical therapist determines was the cause of your shin splints. Treatment may include:
If you suspect you have shin splints, ask your doctor about physical therapy so you can get back to enjoying your favorite sport – pain-free!