Shin Splints: Give Up Running?

by | Injury Q and A

Help needed! I haven’t been able to run for 6 months. I’ve been resting all the time because of shin splints but am now getting aching symptoms in my lower right leg on the outside, even when I sit down. It feels very sore when I run my fingers along the bone and just a few minutes of walking can start it. Maybe I have to accept running is not for me?

– Kim L.

Matt answers…

Hi Kim. Sorry to hear you have not been able to run for a year. It must be extremely frustrating for you, as indeed it is for me as I can’t help but suspect that with the right advice & rehab you could have been back to running by now.

Based on your email, I cannot tell if you have been assessed by a health professional yet but given that this pain has lasted for so long I do urge you to do so. If you have seen a professional, I hope they have pointed out to you that ‘shin splints’ is not actually a diagnosis. There are many potential causes for pain in the shins and as is so often the case with running related injuries, finding a solution to the pain requires us to accurately determine the cause.

Severe or persistent shin pain is not something we should ignore or hope disappears eventually. It can escalate to more serious issues like stress fractures, so getting assessed by a suitably qualified health professional is heavily recommended. They will be able to see whether the pain is bone, muscle or tendon related, each of which will require a slightly different rehabilitation program.

The sensitivity you are feeling on the bone may imply it is bone related. But don’t let this fool you into thinking running is bad for your bones. As long as you don’t overdo things (which will be different for everybody), the impact from running actually causes bones to get stronger. The problem is, if you do too much you can cause an inflammation to the membrane on the outside of the bone, resulting in tenderness when you push into it, and pain on impact. Left unaddressed, the pain can get progressively worse and may continue after running and like you say even when you are just sitting down.

As I have already mentioned, if you haven’t had it checked out yet, please do so. The danger is it develops into a stress fracture. Rest alone will not necessarily see it go. You will most probably need a gradual, progressive strength program alongside modification to everyday activity. Eventually, a gentle return to running should become part of your rehab.

Seeing a professional should also help you avoid it happening again by identifying what caused it in the first place. They will discuss with you possible causes such as a sudden increase in frequency (number of times you run a week), intensity (speed or incline) or duration (how long you are out running), wearing old unsuitable trainers, poor running form and/or weakness in key muscle groups.

I hope this helps. Let us know how it goes!

Do you have any experience of the dreaded shin splints? Was it a struggle to find a solution or did you discover a fantastic way of dealing with them? Whether you are a therapist, coach or runner (maybe all three) we would love to hear from you in comments section below!


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