About three years ago, Brooklyn-based photographer Tyler Joe found himself wondering: What are shin splints, and what have I ever done to deserve this? He had gotten into running and, like many others, he quickly became obsessed with trying to find his fast. Within weeks of picking up the pace, Joe began dealing with pain in his lower legs, something that too runners know a whole lot about.
“It was a persistent pain, and I knew it had to do with me just doing too much too soon,” he told GQ. “So I Googled it, and started to rest more and ice my shins once my runs were done.”
Joe isn’t the only guy that constantly finds himself on and off the bench because of his love affair with running. In fact, a 2017 National Runner Survey estimates that 75 percent of runners have had some sort of sport-related injury over the past 12 months, and 50 percent of those injured have had to put a halt on their training for more than four days.
But exactly what are shin splints? Are they avoidable? And how can you manage the pain if it’s as persistent as that one political candidate you gave five bucks to in 2017? Experts gave GQ the lowdown.
What Are Shin Splints?
Well, they’re annoying, that’s for damn sure. The on-and-off pains you may experience on your shins—or the front sides of your tibia are super common. Sometimes referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome, this discomfort is an overuse musculoskeletal injury commonly found in athletes, says Cassandra Hill, a doctor at Fox Rehabilitation in Maryland. It’s caused by inflammation in the muscles and tendons surrounding the bone.
Most often, they’re caused by an increase in training time or intensity, change in training surface type (like if you shift from smooth pavement to rocky trails), repetitive stress in the presence of movement dysfunction, or a bad cocktail of some or all of the above.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
Prevention of shin splints requires a bit of self-reflection and mindfulness in your current training principles, says Hill. We’ve gone ahead and summed up the best ways for prevention as the “Three S’s” — or strengthening, stretching, and smarts.
Starting with strengthening, that’s a major part of avoiding shin splints—as well as other common running injuries like runner’s knee and piriformis syndrome. Rather than focusing exclusively on strengthening the lower leg to stave off pain, you’ve gotta think full-body—from your feet to your core. Actually do the cross training in your plan for your next half marathon, and maybe add some yoga or work with weights. If you’re stronger, you’ll be better at managing pressure in the lower leg, due to improved shock absorption above and below the shin area, says Hill.
Now, onto stretching. Your two calf muscles are called the gastrocnemius and soleus. Make time to give those a little extra TLC before and after activity, in addition to your hamstrings.
Lastly, smarts. The first important decision is dressing right. Picking the right shoes and gear for your workout can make all the difference, and we’re not just talking about feeling confident because you’re getting a fit off. “Ensure that the sneakers that you train in fit well, and be sure to replace them regularly or rotate a few good pairs of training shoes if you can,” says Hill.
The second? Be very, very cautious whenever you’re ramping up the mileage or intensity of your runs. If you’ve been spending most of your waking hours on the couch, it’s not the best idea to tackle a 5K every single day for a week. Instead, slowly integrate new movement into your routine, even if that involves a little more walking than you’d like at first.