Runners training for the Chevron Houston Marathon as well as all athletes who run and jump in their respective sports, are susceptible to shin splints. To get the scoop on shin splints and how to avoid them, we talked with Raj Shani, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital and the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute. Dr. Shani also serves as an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
What are shin splints?
Shin splints are an overuse injury, caused by improper running mechanics, conditioning or footwear, that includes pain that runs along the front or inner edge of the large tibia bone of the lower leg. Shin splints disrupt the connective tissue that attaches the muscles to the tibia. In addition to pain, there may be mild swelling. The pain generally worsens with activity and eases with rest, though pain can be intense upon rising from sleep.
Can shin splints be prevented?
Shin splints are preventable and often occur with a change in training intensity or running surface, particularly on sloped or uneven surfaces. Treatment includes rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications and stretching. “If self-care measures do not relieve lower leg pain, it is important to seek medical treatment to make sure the pain is not due to a stress fracture or a more serious underlying condition,” says Dr. Shani.
Who is at risk for getting shin splints?
Tight calf muscles, caused by muscle imbalances and flat feet, increase the risk of shin splints. Proper warmups, including calf stretching, are necessary, as is the avoidance of hard surfaces when running and jumping. Orthotics can provide arch support to flat feet. “If an athlete experiences reoccurring shin splints, a gait analysis may help,” says Dr. Shani, who lives in the Heights and serves as team physician for athletes at Waltrip High School, Lutheran North High School, St Pius X High School and the University of St. Thomas. “A running analysis can detect subtleties in gait mechanics that can be corrected to prevent this injury.”
What are some additional ways to prevent shin splints?
Along with improving calf strength, athletes should work on hip abductor strength and pelvic stability. The hip extensor muscles, hamstrings and glutes work together to generate a powerful stride and help avoid shin splints. “Core muscles are also important to build a strong, balanced structural system and avoid injuries,” adds Dr. Shani who will provide medical support during the Chevron Houston Marathon.
Why should athletes never play through the pain?
A stress fracture in the tibia or fibula bones of the lower leg can feel exactly like shin splints, so Dr. Shani urges athletes not to ignore lower leg pain and especially to never “play through the pain.” Other conditions that cause lower leg pain include exertional compartment syndrome, an exercise-induced muscle and nerve condition, and popliteal aneurysm, a ballooning of the popliteal artery behind the knee. “It is important that these aneurysms be closely monitored or corrected surgically, as they present a risk for blood clots,” says Dr. Shani.
To learn more about sports medicine care at Memorial Hermann, visit the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute.