Fix and prevent this common lower-leg injury.

Fix and prevent this common lower-leg injury.

Shin splints are among the most frustrating injuries because they make a basic act—running—impossible. The term “shin splints” actually denotes more than one lower-leg ailment, but let’s focus on the more common bone-related shin pain.

The Symptoms

More common (roughly 90 percent of cases): Pain in the bony part of the shin, along the tibia, during and after exercise and when you press on the area.

Less common (about 10 percent of cases): A tightening pain in the soft, outside, muscular part of the shin, usually bad enough that running becomes impossible, and then subsides when you stop running.

What’s Going On In There?

Bone-related shin pain, called medial tibial stress syndrome, can range from a stress injury—irritation of the bone—to a stress fracture, an actual crack in the bone. The area hurts during and especially after exercise, and the tibia hurts when touched or tapped. It’s generally the result of three variables: body mechanics, amount of activity and bone density.

Fix It

See a doctor for proper diagnosis. Stress injuries can become stress fractures, which can sideline you for a long time.

Employ dynamic rest. Find another activity that doesn’t load your legs. Swimming and cycling are good choices.

Prevent It

Change your shoes. Try switching to a shoe that limits pronation. Arch supports can help as well.

Up your calcium and vitamin D intakes. Try 1,300 milligrams of calcium and 400 micrograms of D per day. Easy food sources are milk and yogurt.

Follow the 10 percent rule. Never up your weekly running mileage by more than 10 percent.

Train your hips and core. Strengthening these areas will make you a stronger runner, which improves foot strike and body mechanics.

Shorten your running stride. Doing this while increasing your cadence may help you generate better stride mechanics because you’ll be putting a lot less load on your feet, shins, knees and on up the kinetic chain.

When To Call A Doctor

For bone-related pain, it’s best to get a doctor’s diagnosis because then you’ll know the severity of the injury. You’ll need an MRI to determine if a stress fracture is present because stress fractures don’t show up on X-rays unless they’re very severe or healing. Your doctor may also do a bone-density scan (using DEXA, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry).