Sports scientists don’t all agree on how to technically define shin splints, but there’s one thing everyone can agree on: they hurt! Unofficially, shin splints are characterized by pain between the ankle and the knee on the front or back of the leg. Depending on what causes your shin splints, you could experience a dull ache or you could feel sharp shooting pain.
In most cases, shin splints are caused by consistent muscle overuse or by sudden changes to a workout routine (either the type of workout or the intensity). Given the nature of distance running, shin splints are a common problem for runners. When you run more than your leg muscles can handle, which varies for everyone, your muscles can develop small tears and become inflamed. Inflammation is painful on its own, and continuing to push inflamed muscles causes even more pain.
Too much overuse can even cause stress fractures, small cracks in your tibia, as your muscle tissue separates from the bone. Stress fractures can cause intense, shooting pain that has brought more than a few runners to their knees.
Luckily, there are simple ways to eliminate the pain of shin splints from your workout routine.
This is a tough one for the avid runner, but if your shin splints have gotten really bad, your muscles need some time to heal. Your body will naturally replace muscle fibers torn by overuse, but new muscle fibers are fragile and need time to grow. Continuing to run or workout with shin splints will only make things worse!
Inflammation is the main culprit of shin splints, but there are easy ways to reduce the inflammation causing your pain. Icing your muscles for 20 minutes after a workout, and even a few more times throughout the day, can do a world of difference bringing down muscle swelling. Anti-inflammatory painkillers and antioxidants also reduce inflammation, so pop some pills, blueberries, and tart cherries.
Worn out or poor quality shoes can sometimes intensify shin splints. Your worn-down running shoes may not absorb as much of the shock each time your foot hits the ground as they used to. This can cause inflammation that leads to or intensifies shin splints. You may also benefit from shoes that offer better arch support. Poor arch support increases tension in your in your ligaments and tendons, which can lead to shin splints as well.
Graduated compression sleeves increase circulation in your lower leg to get more water and oxygen to your muscles. If you have shin splints, this can decrease the inflammation by getting your muscles the resources they need to rebuild. But the best part about compression is that while rest, icing, and using anti-inflammatories can help treat and reduce shin splints, compression can stop them from happening in the first place! Increasing the blood flow to your lower during a workout can make a huge difference in ensuring that your muscles have the water and oxygen they need to function for longer without becoming inflamed.
If you suffer from poor arch support, graduated compression socks give you the same inflammation-preventing benefits of compression sleeves with the added benefit of arch support to prevent tension in your ligaments and tendons.
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