Run Clinic: Shin splints can be a real pain for running newbies

As one 15-year-old has found out, running is a great leveller, as youth offers no extra protection against injury


I’ve had enough of my sore shins . I’m sure you’re only meant to get shin splints in your 40s after years of running. Help.


I was shocked to discover Alice is only 15. But running is a great leveller, in that being young offers no extra protection against injury, nor does it give you any real advantage over us oldies when it comes to the longer distances.

Look at those at the top of their game: positively prehistoric compared with those in other sports competing at the same level. And anyone who has run a marathon will be able to bring to mind someone old enough to be their granddad overtaking them at some stage along the course (or maybe that’s just me).

Common injury
Firstly Alice, you are not alone. Shin splints are probably the most common running injury, and it is you newbies to the sport who are most at risk, not old timers in their 40s, who have been at it for years. Why?

Put simply, because as a beginner to long-distance running, your calf muscles are not yet used to the exercise, and that dull ache you are experiencing in your lower legs is most likely the result of medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) caused by frequent and intense periods of exercise that your body is unused to.

MTSS is thought to occur when the layer of connective tissue that covers the surface of the shin bone (periosteum) becomes inflamed. It is most likely to affect new runners like you (although old timers who increase speed and/or distances too quickly can also suffer from shin splints, so be warned).

Runners at risk of developing shin splints other than newcomers to the sport, are those who run on concrete or other equally unforgiving hard surfaces, up steep hills (especially if you are lugging around extra weight), and runners with weak ankles, tight calf muscles or tight Achilles tendons (the band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the calf muscle).

If you suffer from overpronation (excessive rolling of the foot) or flat feet, this may also aggravate the problem and put you at a greater risk of developing shin splints. All of the above can and do happen to runners of all ages.

What can you do about it?
1. Stop running for two weeks and do lower impact sports instead: yoga, swimming, cross-training or walking . If you have been “gritting it out” and running in spite of the shin splints, apply an ice pack (just wrap frozen peas in a tea-towel) immediately after your run to help relieve the pain and/or use over-the-counter paracetomol or ibuprofen-based painkillers. Make that your last run for a fortnight.
2. Make sure you are wearing the right shoes. If prone to shin splints, you really need to invest in a pair of proper running shoes. By “proper” I mean a pair bought from a specialist running shop: Amphibian King is a good option in Dublin. It is vital that your running shoes provide sufficient cushioning and support for your weight and foot type. So, if you haven’t already done so, get yourself to a specialist running shop and have your gait analysed and a trained member of staff help you to choose the right shoes.

If you continue having problems and think your shoes may be the cause, see a podiatrist (aka a foot specialist) who will be able to look at your overall lower limb biomechanics. They may well recommend orthotics (special shoe inserts) which will help guard against shin splints.

Other causes
If the pain does not improve dramatically after two weeks’ rest, please see your GP so they can rule out other possible causes of the pain, including but not exclusive to: reduced blood supply to the lower leg (smokers are at greater risk of this and so of course this won’t apply to you Alice); stress fractures and muscle hernias; “compartment syndrome” (swelling of the leg muscle such that the surrounding nerves and blood vessels become overly compressed); or a nerve problem in your lower back (radiculopathy).

In your case Alice, I am hopeful that any of the above are extremely unlikely and so, assuming that your shins do recover in a fortnight and you are keen to get back out running, make sure you do the following – in your properly fitting specialist running shoes of course:
Run on a flat, soft surface, such as a playing field;

Go easy on your first outing, slower than before and over a shorter distance;

Increase the distance you run very slowly after a few weeks back running and don’t attempt to speed up until six

weeks and then only very gradually;

Work on improving your overall strength and flexibility (cross training and core strength training will help with this). Specifically, strengthen your lower legs with this simple exercise: sit on a chair and loop a weight around your foot (a jar full of coins would do fine), then move your foot up and down from the ankle (so you are using your ankle and not your leg to generate the lifting action).

The Grit Doctor says:
Running does not discriminate on the grounds of age. Everyone, young and old, will always get out what they put in, and if you fail to treat the sport with the respect it deserves

– no matter how much youth you have on your side – expect to pay a price.

Tweet your running query to Ruth at: @gritdoctor

Ruth Field is author of Run, Fat Bitch, Run