How I Treated My Shin Splints
So you find yourself with an agonizingly painful shin and have come to the conclusion that you are injured, most likely with shin splints. The question is, “What can I do about it?” Shin splints is the injury that everybody’s had, yet nobody really knows exactly what it is or what to do about.
After suffering from shin splints and stress fractures myself for six years, I became frustrated that nothing seemed to be working. I saw my doctor who ran marathons, but he couldn’t help. Referring me to a pedorthist who confirmed the diagnosis and outfitted me with orthotics, which couldn’t have been more useless. After years of trying new things and continuous frustration, I decided to get down to work and find out what the research community had to say on the matter. What I found not only shocked me, but changed the way I thought about shin splints by simply defining the injury as Bone Strain.
I thought I knew what shin splints was: a pain on the inside of the shin caused by too much running on hard surfaces. While this may be true, it doesn’t fully describe what’s really going on down there. When you hear the term bone strain, you get a clear picture. An injury effecting the bone caused by excessive force being placed on the shin bone. The excessive force causes damage to the shin bone which triggers the remodeling process to break down damaged areas to make way for new stronger bone to be formed. This is the same process that occurs when a stress fracture is incurred. Therefore I believe that shin splints aka bone strain will lead to a stress fracture.
So what can you do to treat your bone strain if you notice the tell-tale signs? First classify yourself in one of four stages of injury to better determine the path of action. In the first stage, a sense of discomfort is noticeable after running. During the second stage, pain becomes more pronounced although running though the pain is still possible. In stage three, running becomes painful and can usually be recognized by the necessity of taking several days off running. Stage four is a full blown stress fracture, which can sometimes result in the inability of walking as well as a severe pain on the shin. With bone strain, the affected area is normally two to three inches long. Stress fractures normally have a more narrow area of excruciating pain.
Regardless of which category you fall in, I’d recommend taking enough days off for the immediate pain to subside. Icing for a few minutes a couple times a day will help reduce inflammation. Doing some light easy runs as soon as possible, is advised. Remember that your shin is trying to adapt to a new normal. If you took a month off running, your shin will get use to resting and not your new level of activity. That’s why it’s imperative to keep up whatever activity is possible. During these light easy runs, wrapping the affected area is a must. This reduces the stress placed on the area. The idea here is to not overload the shin but keep enough stress on it in order to maintain the adaptation. Of course getting the ice on their immediately after running will help out too.
During this phase, I would always have a rest day between easy runs, if not one, two or three rest days. Use your judgment here, as no one else is more qualified in making this decision than you.
Another thing to keep in mind:
The cause, what caused this injury in the first place? In my case it was low bone density. Therefore I supplemented with Calcium, Magnesium, and Vitamin D to increase bone mass. See this post for further reading.