The Real Reason You Have Shin Splints

It’s the start of a new year and you’ve decided to get in shape or you finally took the leap and are 

training for that distance race. As you’re running  you begin to notice pain in your shins.

There are different types of running patterns including those that land on their heels or toes

What are shin splints?

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome or shin splints is hurting or discomfort in the front of your lower leg. It is usually caused by long running or repeated stress. Sometimes it can stop right after you stop running but  can lead to more repetitive longer lasting pain that just ice and rest can’t help. Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome could eventually lead to stress fractures.

Risk Factors

  1. Physical conditioning: Studies have shown that faster runners have less incidence of stress fractures. The faster your leg moves during a run the less loading impact your leg will absorb. Also weakness in another area such as the hips or knees could lead to compensatory techniques causing increased loading and impact
  2. New runners: If you are new to running you may not be using a style that puts the least amount of stress on your joints. Some runners can’t handle a heel strike running style. The more energy inefficient your running style the more potential loading on your joints. It’s not to say these deviations will cause pain for everyone but  it can be a factor in the pain that you are feeling.
  3. Increased distance: Sometimes runners novice or  even experienced runners try to put on too much mileage too soon. If you are accustomed to running a 5k and immediately try to go marathon or half marathon distances there is bound to be issues. In my personal experience going from just running a mile to 5k’s was painful when I tried to do it cold turkey. It’s not to say you won’t ever run this distance but you need to gradually progress the mileage to allow your body to accommodate. A gradual graded program is very beneficial where you make small increases in distance over a couple of weeks instead of just adding on a bunch of extra miles without a plan.
  1. Shoe wear: For runners it is important to make sure they change out their shoes frequently. Continued running  on shoes that are too worn and no longer do what they are supposed to do can be detrimental.
runner landing on outside of foot

What does this mean?

Don’t worry, shin splints do not mean you have to stop running.  It does, however mean you need to consider some things. First off how bad is the pain. A mild ache is really not that much of an issue. This could mean that you just need to warm up properly. If the pain is more severe you may need more days off between runs. Take this time to go to the gym or some other fun activity that does not require jogging or running. Unfortunately 

sometimes it may require a few weeks off of hard running, especially if the pain seems to linger after you stopped running. During this off time try some light jogging over short distances. If you can do this for 2 straight weeks without pain or only mild pain slowly progress back into your running program.


  1. Rest: Make sure you are giving yourself plenty of time to recover, especially in the early stages. Icing for a few minutes may help to numb the pain.
  2. Cross training:  Just like any other athlete runners need to be strong overall. Sticking to one sport all the time be it basketball, baseball or running is not good for the athlete. Spend some time in the gym working on mobility and strength.
  3. Seek out a physical therapist: In many states Physical Therapists can see you without a referral from a doctor saving you a step and money. The therapist can help correct your form if need be, give you exercises to help address issues. We can also use manual therapy and other interventions to help with the pain while educating you on how to reduce the pain of running.
bruising on shin
  1. Make sure you are changing shoes: Recommendations are to change shoes about every 4-6 months and may be more frequent depending on mileage. Check your shoes. I’ve seen plenty of people running in shoes shoes that are not meant for running on the track or the street and so is not providing the right kind of support. 

If your shin splints are not improving after a couple of weeks make an appointment to be evaluated by a Physical Therapist trained in Sports management like the one at Fearless Physical Therapy.

To find a Physical Therapy clinic in your area that meets your needs use the BetterPT physical therapy clinic locator at This will put you in touch with a P.T. clinic that can help you address and achieve your goals. There is also a BetterPT app that you can download on your phone.

Dr. Marquis Jordan decided to become a physical therapist after his grandmother lost the use of her legs when he was a pre-teen. He grew up playing  sports in his youth such as basketball and football but the first time he stepped foot in the wrestling room a passion was ignited. As a former wrestler he knows the effect injuries and pain can have on someone’s psyche. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Virginia and has participated in numerous sports symposiums and a year long manual therapy residency. He has worked with injury clinics for athletes and has even worked with professional athletes and injured U.S. military. His  interests lie in grapplers, martial arts, soccer and basketball players and their recovery which has peaked with the participation of his kids in these sports

Dr. Jordan and KJ Jordan

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