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Dealing with shin splints

8 April 2012

As someone who is of above average weight (this is a build thing as well as lifestyle…) I have always found my attempts at any prolonged running to be hampered by shin splints.  “Shin splints” is a medical diagnosis that is thrown around rather haphazardly but is actually a rather general term referring to a number of problems that arise from running, or other sports that involve impact (as opposed to cycling or swimming).

I have heard from different sources (some medical, some internet) that shin splints range from micro fractures of the shins, to problems with the tibia muscles that sit behind the shins, to underdeveloped muscles following growth spurts.  I have, at various times in my life, attempted to train for running events but have been diagnosed several times with “shin splints” and told to cut back or stop running for fear of exacerbating the injury and causing long term damage.  Okay, so the pain is not exactly like being hit by a cricket ball without an appropriate box, but it can provide an ache that lasts beyond the run and makes walking uncomfortable.  For me, it feels muscular because there is often a painful throbbing behind the shins that is painful to the touch and can result in sharp pains when walking after a long run.

However, a few years back I decided to try to overcome my shin splints and work towards a marathon.  I started with a 10k, moved on to half marathons and last year I completed the Paris marathon (albeit not at an impressive time but speedwork is a different issue).  I spent quite a lot of time concerned about the issue of shin splints and feel that I can provide some useful tips that may help others in my situation:

  • I initially tried purchasing shin splint compression sleeves at £26 EACH (http://www.wiggle.co.uk/mueller-shin-splint-compression-sleeve/ – I can recommend Wiggleas having great customer service, response times and occasionally throwing in a free small bag of Haribo which is always nice to receive in addition to any order).  These fit around your shins like tight shin pads and are supposed to offer cushioning at the base of your shins as well as compression.  The major downside to these (other than cost!) are their appearance – you really need to wear footy/rugby/hockey socks over them but they seem to do a good job, although they increase sweating on the lower limbs;

    The compression sleeves were not my favourite look...

  • I then experimented with a couple brands of compression socks.  The theory with compression wear is that you can either use them during sport for extra support, or afterwards for a period of time to aid recovery by improving circulation, reducing lactic acid and (apparently) preventing muscle oscillation, contributing to muscle recovery.  I tried the X-Socks (http://www.wiggle.co.uk/?s=X Socks+Run%20Energizer%20Compression%20Socks) for £19 and then the Nike Knee highs for £11 (http://www.wiggle.co.uk/?s=Nike+Knee%20High%20Compression%20Socks%20AW11%20).  Whilst these can be worn in a similar fashion to the Compression sleeves, the way that I took to wearing them was to aid recovery after my long runs, often sleeping in them after an evening run or wearing them in the office after a morning run when they would also help me to feel less stiff walking for my coffee!  Having tried both, I would recommend the Nike socks as they seem to have as good an effect as the X-Socks which are almost twice the price.  It may be the placebo effect but my legs always feel better the day after a run if I have worn my compression socks for a sustained period afterwards;
  • Having tried the various compression socks, when I signed up for the Paris marathon I thought I’d stick with the theme and try Compression Tights ( around £75 http://www.wiggle.co.uk/2xu-pwx-mens-compression-tights/).  This was a real step up in expenditure  and the idea of wearing something called tights was quite daunting, I don’t see why they can’t name them something a little more manly, but I was signed up for a marathon and I figured that the socks had been so successful that they may give me a fighting chance.  A lot of people run in just their tights, but I’d definitely recommend a pair of baggy shorts over the top… In terms of overall muscle recovery, I think that the tights helped me to run further and recover better.  In terms of the shin splints I think that they provided a degree of compression during the running but not sufficient to make a significant difference and I still kept wearing the socks for recovery periods.  If money is no problem I’d recommend the tights (and a good pair of shorts) but if the only concern in shin splints then my priority would be on the socks;
  • Take care not to increase distance too drastically – I have read that a 10% per week increase in distance should be the maximum and have experienced more shin splint pain when increasing my distance by greater proportions.  Sometimes you do just have to rest, reduce the distance and start again;
  • Try to mix in some running on soft ground, I like canal tow paths (and they’re flat…) because this provides less impact than a hard tarmac surface and can therefore reduce the overall stress impact on your shins.

I hope that some of these hard learnt lessons will be of use to some people but do remember that shin splints symptoms cover a whole variety diagnoses.  If you have found a solution that works please do let me know!

4 Comments
  1. I considered some of those socks when I thought I was developing shin splints, but thankfully after a rest and a few easier runs the pain went away and hasn’t returned. Good info though!

  2. Straight from the infantry and the medics who have to deal with them!

    To strengthen your shins and lessen/cure splints try the following exercises combined with light jogging and/or hiking with pack:
    – lay down with your legs straight out, point your toes away from you until you feel a stretch, then bring them back towards you until you feel a “bunching” feeling. Repeat in sets of 2-3 minutes a few times a day.
    – exactly as above, but with elastic looped around your foot and the bedpost to create resistance as you pull towards yourself.
    – stand on a step or any raised surface of sufficient height, move back until you’re balancing on your toes, then allow yourself to dip down then push yourself up to be on tip-toes. Repeat in sets of 2-3 minutes a few times a day.

    Also, start running/hiking at low distances/speeds and with low weights. Alternate days of running/hiking with days off to let your muscles heal up. Run on soft surfaces whenever possible and always ensure the proper fit and support of running footwear.

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