Shin splints1 is an ache along the shinbone or tibia, that is, the bone in the front of the lower leg. The signs of shin splints are a pain at the rear or on the side of the lower leg, specifically, near the shin. The pain related with shin splints comes as a result of extreme force to the shin bone and the tissues linking the bone to the adjoining muscles. In most cases, shin splints involve minor tears of the leg muscle close to the shin bone or damage to the bone. The medical term for shin splints is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome2. They normally result from physical activity most especially running. Shin splints mostly affect athletes, dancers, those who engage in sporting activities that require running, such as football, and military staff on training. Those most prone to shin splints are beginners because their bodies are not used to physical activity.
Can You Still Run With Shin Splints?
To run or not to run with shin splints? In order to make a decision as to whether to run or not, it is important to consider the severity of the shin splint. In case the shin splint is mild, once the lower leg warms up, it disappears and one can continue running. If the shin splint gets worse with continued running, the running should be discontinued. Also, if the shin splint leads to an alteration of gait, it signifies that one should stop running. This is because additional exertion on the bone, tendons, and muscles will intensify the pain and inflammation.
There are four stages which one can use to gauge the extent of the injury and whether to continue with running or not. The stages are as follows:
Shin Splints Stage One: Discomfort That Diminishes With Warm Up
The identification and treatment of the injury at this stage allows one to continue with the activity for as long as the injury does not get worse.
Shin Splints Stage Two: Discomposure That May Disappear When Warming Up But Reemerges At The End Of The Activity
At this stage of shin splints, the activity may go on at a modified pain-free level while being treated. It is important for a professional to assess the damage to the lower leg and to prescribe treatment and this should continue until the shin splint is healed and normal activity resumed.
Shin Splints Stage Three: Discomfort That Gets Worse With Activity
In case the injury advances to this stage the activity should be stopped immediately. One should be guided by a professional to ensure that the injury has not progressed into a bone stress fracture. In order to resume the normal levels of activity or exercise, a comprehensive rehabilitation program for shin splints should be undertaken.
Shin Splints Stage Four: Continuous Pain Or Discomfort
For an injury that has progressed to this level, all activities should cease straightaway. Professional assessment is necessary to rule out the possibility of stress fractures or more serious tibial fractures. One should seek the help of a medical professional to do a thorough investigation and rehabilitation for shin splints depending on the evaluation.
Consequences Of Running With A Shin Splint
Continuing to run when one has a shin splint may eventually result in stress fractures3 and this may affect the performance of the sport. This is because the effects of shin splits are cumulative with continued activity and it interferes with the body’s ability to naturally repair and restore itself. Treating stress fractures would require a least six weeks of rest. The other complication that can result from running with shin splint is muscle compartment syndrome. This is a condition in which the muscle sheaths get compressed by enlarged muscles. This is a very serious condition and often times may require surgery to avert long-lasting damage to the muscles.
To avoid aggravating the damage caused by shin splints, the best thing to do is to allow a shin splint to heal completely before continuing with the activity that caused it in the first place. The healing process of a shin splint takes about two weeks. During the recovery time, one can still engage in less impacting activities like swimming or biking.
The risk involved in continued physical activity when one has shin splint is high and it is therefore not advisable to continue with the activity until the leg is completely healed. For example, if one developed stress fractures or the muscle compartment syndrome4, it would take a relatively long time to heal as opposed to the time taken to treat a shin splint.