If you hang around the finish line after your community 5K long enough, you’re bound to hear someone complaining about an achy, consistent pain around the edge of their shins. In fact, medial tibial stress syndrome, or MTSS, is the most common musculoskeletal injury in runners, and it affects everyone from weekend warriors to seasoned pros. You probably know them by another name: shin splints. Most athletes know how much this injury can slow them down, so take some time to learn about the condition and how to prevent it!
What Is It?
Shin splints is a broad term, loosely defined as pain along the inner edge of the tibia. It is most commonly caused when the connective tissue between the tibia, or shinbone, and lower leg muscles is irritated from overuse. Other causes of this pain are compartment syndrome, (when a muscle exerts too much pressure on its muscle sheath) and stress fractures (incomplete cracks in the bone.) Both of these are more serious conditions and often present as intense, localized pain. Shin splints, on the other hand, usually cause achy, generalized discomfort in the lower legs.
How Can I Prevent Shin Splints?
The most common cause of MTSS is overuse, especially from progressing too quickly when starting a new running or exercise plan. Ill-fitting footwear and flawed biomechanics can also be to blame, such as when your foot rolls inward excessively at the end of a stride. This is known as overpronation and it puts additional stress on the muscles and bones of the lower leg.
Other causes include poor stretching habits, which leave muscles tight, and running too frequently on firm, unforgiving surfaces like roads and sidewalks, which can damage bones and muscles. To keep injury at bay, get a good pair of shoes, start slow, and make sure you back off on training at the first sign of pain.
How Do I Treat Shin Splints?
Suggested treatments for shin splints are similar to those of most other repetitive use injuries: cut back on the mileage, ice up, and get some rest. Seize the opportunity to try cross training activities, like swimming, biking, or resistance training. The safest bet is to stay away from what caused the injury until the pain has subsided completely. As you progress back into your regular routine, support the affected side and wrap it with a bandage or wear a compression sleeve, which can help prevent the injury from reoccurring.
Shin splints may take a long time to heal, but a little knowledge can go a long way in fixing the problem and staying healthy for miles to come.