Whether you’re a professional athlete or you’re running recreationally, sooner or later, you can suffer from some sports injuries. There are various injuries connected to running, but if you’re a runner, you probably stopped at one point and wondered, “Why do my shins hurt when I run?”
If you’re having some trouble with pain surrounding the shin area, keep reading, as we’ll cover all the causes and symptoms of shin splints and lower leg pain, so you can quickly identify which of these two very common running issues is bothering you. However, even if you’re not experiencing pain in the shins at all, it’s useful to read about the prevention tips to avoid these issues from happening.
Shin Splints vs. Lower Leg Pain
Before getting started, it’s important to know the difference between shin splints and lower leg pain. Although both are located in the lower part of the leg, between the knee and the ankle, they aren’t quite the same. Shin splints refer to issues with shins and shin bones, while lower leg pain can mean more different things. Any issue in the lower leg area causing pain can be referred to as lower leg pain.
Lower leg pain is kind of an umbrella term for all lower leg issues, including shin splints.
Shin splints are, as the name says, located around the shin bone. Runners tend to describe it as the discomfort or pain surrounding the shin bone area. Shin splints can often cause shins to hurt, especially during physical activities such as running, dancing, gymnastics, and the majority of sports. Because running is an activity heavily focused on legs, shin splints are common among many runners.
On the other hand, lower leg pain is a more widely used term for all discomforts located in the lower part of the leg. Lower leg pain can mean anything from injured bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. The lower leg is, in fact, the most frequently injured body part during running, so experiencing pain in this area is a very common issue for the majority of runners.
So, if you find yourself wondering why your shins hurt when you run and are considering possible solutions, read this article about lower leg pain and shin splints. After reading it, you just might find a cause and proper treatment to increase the quality of your running experience.
Shin Splint: Causes
Numerous things can cause shin splints. However, if you partook in any of the activities mentioned below, that’s probably the reason why you’re experiencing shin splints symptoms.
Ultimately, any physical activity that puts stress on the shin bone can weaken it and cause its inflammation, therefore resulting in shin splints. Here’s a list of the most common activities that cause them.
- Running – Running is an exercise heavily focused on the legs, especially the lower parts. For that reason, runners often experience shin splints, and participating in a demanding running program can cause shin splints even for advanced runners. Beginners are also prone to experiencing shin splints.
- Shoes – It’s very important which shoes you wear, especially during physical activities involving a lot of leg movement. Shoes that don’t provide sufficient support or don’t fit how they can affect the stability and security of our legs and feet during training. So, if you’re constantly experiencing shin splint symptoms, think about getting a pair of shoes that fit your foot better.
- Flat feet – Flat feet or high arches can cause numerous issues, and shin splints are one of them. So, if you have flat feet or high arches, you are likely to experience shin splints, especially without the appropriate pair of sneakers.
- Workout routine – Good workout routine can benefit our health and well-being. Similarly, a bad workout routine can be a cause of many issues, including shin splints. Skipping warm-up exercises before training and stretches after training can cause various injuries to muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Also, sudden changes such as increasing the speed, frequency, length, and intensity of training can play a crucial role in causing shin splints.
- Muscle imbalance – If you have weak core muscles, to begin with, any physical activity may cause some injuries. That’s why it’s important to take it slow and not overwork the muscles unnecessarily.
- Surface – The type of surface you run on can also sometimes decide whether there’s an issue or not. Hard surfaces, such as concrete, increase the shock which the leg has to absorb, therefore increasing the possibility of an injury.
Additionally, uneven terrain, such as sand or grass, can also affect the shin splints. So, try to opt for tracks and fields with terrain intended for running.
Shin Splint: Symptoms
Symptoms of shin splints can vary from person to person. However, there are several symptoms with which you can determine whether you suffer from shin splints or not. Some of the most common symptoms include tenderness, swelling, and pain around the lower leg area.
When it comes to pain, shin splints can range anywhere from mild to severe pain. Additionally, the shin bone can often be sensitive to the touch. Some people tend to feel shin splint pain at the beginning of training, and the pain tends to go away when the muscles loosen up, while others notice pain during or after the training.
Usually, the pain stops when the exercise stops at first, but if the condition is ignored or not treated correctly, the pain can intensify and become constant even after the workout. In some cases, the pain can become severe even when not participating in any physical activity.
Swelling is another symptom of shin splints. You can notice it around the lower leg, and the shin bone becomes tender to the touch. Swelling mainly occurs in the inner or front part of the lower leg, just where the shin bone is placed.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms during your daily run, then shin splints may be the reason why your shins hurt when you run. So, take a rest from running and follow our treatment tips for the most efficient recovery.
Shin Splint: Prevention and Treatments
Shin splints aren’t a serious condition, and they can be easily treated, especially if caught in the early stages. If you’re experiencing shin splints during or after your running sessions, check out these tips to treat this condition successfully at home.
- Rest – Rest is the oldest trick in the book for physical injuries for a reason. If you’re experiencing any kind of pain or discomfort during your workout, that’s usually your body signaling you to take things slower.
The simplest and most effective shin splint treatment is taking enough rest. Make sure to refrain from any kind of physical activity for at least 2 to 4 weeks to give your muscles a chance to recover and regain strength.
Even when you feel ready to go back on track, take things easy, and don’t rush back into the old routine, as this can cause even more serious injuries.
- Ice – As shin splints can cause swelling and throbbing in the lower legs, putting ice or a cold pack can help these symptoms decrease or even disappear. Ice your shins a couple of times per day, and you’ll probably see the pain and swelling go away.
- Massage – Softly massaging the muscles and the inflamed area helps alleviate the pain and discomfort caused by shin splints. You can also use foam rollers to release the tension in the muscles and improve their flexibility.
- Stretch – Daily stretching has numerous benefits for our overall physical health, but stretching can also help with shin splint pain and throbbing. Daily light stretching exercises can help with faster and better shin splint recovery.
- Anti-inflammatory – Another option is taking anti-inflammatory medication to help with swelling and pain. Even though this is an efficient way of getting rid of the pain, you should consult with your doctor whether you need medication before buying it.
If you’ve recovered from shin splints, or you’re just careful not to get them, several pieces of advice can help you prevent shin splints from happening. Buying a good pair of running shoes will help not only with shins but with other running injuries too.
You should also avoid hard surfaces and reduce the intensity, frequency, and speed of your training. Increase the intensity of your training slowly. Finally, make sure to take enough time before two running sessions and do a proper warm-up and stretching exercises before and after the workout.
Lower Leg Pain: Causes
Most injuries that come from any kind of physical activity are a result of overworked muscles. The same goes for lower leg pain. It can be caused by a large variety of activities and conditions. However, here we’ll list some of the most common causes of lower leg pain besides shin splints.
- Stress fracture – Stress fractures share many similar symptoms like shin splints, but unlike them, stress fractures don’t seem to recover in such a short period. A stress fracture results from continuous overwhelming running sessions, which cause the shin bone to withstand numerous microfractures.
So, by continuously participating in running sessions that are too intense, you can suffer from microfractures that can ultimately lead to a stress fracture and even a complete bone fracture if not treated.
- Muscle cramp – Muscle cramps are quite common, and they don’t only happen during sports activities. Anyone can have a muscle cramp from everyday activity, but calves are the most affected ones when it comes to running.
Calf muscle cramps are typically the result of poor warm-up activity before the running session. They are also more frequent if you’re running in hot weather or aren’t drinking enough water.
The number of muscle cramps you experience can also increase as you grow older, but you should visit a doctor if you’re experiencing them too often.
- Muscle strain – On the other hand, if you overstretch your muscle you could cause a small tear in it, which results in muscle strain. However, muscle strains are more caused by sudden movements and movement changes. For example, an unexpected fall or a sudden change in the running direction can cause mild or severe muscle strains.
- Sprain – Spraining is when a ligament connecting the two bones in the lower leg is stretched or torn. A sprained ankle is the most common injury related to sprains. Sprains, the twisted ankles, in particular, are caused when a runner lands on their foot incorrectly. It usually happens during sharp turns or while running on bumpy and uneven terrain.
- Tendinitis – Because of the specific area where tendons are places, you can identify tendinitis very easily. It’s located in the lower calf, almost at the back of the heel.
As tendons link bones and muscles, the injured tendon can hurt while trying to move the connecting muscle. Tendinitis often results in swelling of the injured area, and the flexibility of the muscle is very limited.
As for the causes, tendinitis and injured tendons are caused by overwhelming running sessions, climbing the stairs or going uphill, or simply by wearing the wrong kinds of shoes.
Lower Leg Pain: Symptoms
Symptoms of all of the lower leg injuries are similar, and they include swelling, pain, and decreased flexibility. They are usually mild and can be treated with home remedies until the complete recovery. Even if some symptoms appear to be more severe, that only means more rest time is necessary. So, here you can find some of the most common lower leg pain symptoms.
One of the unavoidable symptoms is pain, of course. The precise location of the pain can differ depending on the injured area, so pain can be more prevalent at the front and inner part of the lower leg affecting the shins, at the back affecting the calf muscle or ligaments, or at the bottom towards the heel affecting the ankle and tendons.
The intensity of the pain can also vary from mild to severe. If injured, you’ll first feel mild pain only during the exercise. If not treated properly, this pain can become stronger and affect you while doing lighter activities like walking. Ultimately, the pain can become severe even when resting if you’re not taking care of the issue on time.
Tightness or stiffness is also a very common symptom of lower leg pain. It can affect muscles, ligaments, and tendons, so it can be felt in all parts of the lower leg. This feeling can greatly affect your running experience as you’ll find it hard or impossible to move your leg. The stiffness causes inflexibility, and it’s usually accompanied by a certain level of pain.
Another common symptom of lower leg pain is swelling. Especially when talking about injured ligaments, joints, and tendons, the swelling is almost always present. Swelling is also often accompanied by pain, but it’s also possible to feel increased sensitivity and tenderness in the injured area, especially when touched.
Lower Leg Pain: Prevention and Treatments
Just like shin splints, home remedies are almost always just what you need to get rid of lower leg pain. There is no need for doctor’s appointments or expensive medication unless you feel extremely unwell.
So, to treat lower leg pain quickly, easily, and fully, follow a couple of our tips down below. If you don’t feel any improvement in several days, then it’s maybe a good idea to book an appointment at the doctor’s office.
- Icing – Icing is a great way to decrease the swelling and numb the pain efficiently. It also cools down the injured area, so the recovery tends to last shorter. Applying ice is the best remedy for hurt muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Keeping ice on the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes a couple of times a day is almost everything you need for a smooth recovery.
- Resting – Combining ice packs with resting is a match made in heaven. There’s no better medication than taking a much-needed rest from the intense running sessions. So, if you feel any kind of pain, stop running for a while and allow your body to heal and recover on its own. You’ll be surprised with the results once you get back to running.
- Light activity – Even when injured, cutting off all exercise isn’t always the best option. If your injury is a slight one, you can still enjoy many activities such as walking, light stretching, yoga, and so on. It can help with the faster recovery, but it’s important not to overdo it and injure yourself even more.
Regular warm-up and stretching exercises before and after running can prepare the body for the training and therefore help prevent injuries from happening. Also, flexibility plays a crucial role in avoiding any lower leg pains, so make sure to work on it from time to time too.
To sum it up, various things can cause pain in the shin area during physical activities. While running, we use all our leg muscles, so the injuries are quite common. Even if experiencing pain doesn’t need to be due to an injury, it can be your body telling you to slow it down before it comes to one. Therefore, make sure you take all the necessary steps to prevent any injuries.
Besides, even if you are injured, let your body regain strength and vitality by taking a well-deserved rest alongside other treatment methods, and you’ll never wonder again, “Why do my shins hurt when I run?”