Ultrarunning: Shin Splints and An Ultrarunner’s Lower Legs

April 3, 2012

This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “Shin Splints and An Ultrarunner’s Lower Legs”, please leave it below in the comments section…

Shin splints happens to athletes of sports that involve a lot of sudden and shifting movements which consequently put a lot of pressure on the lower legs. If you’ve ever run a trail ultra, then you know that ultrarunners are susceptible too. In fact according to The Physician and Sports Medicine journal, this kind of injury comprises around 13 to 17 % of all running injuries.

What are shin splints?

This injury to the lower legs is commonly characterized by pain in two possible areas. It could be felt on the front and/or outer side of the shin, or it could come from the lower and inside part. More often than not the discomfort comes at the start of a training activity, eases up during the session, and then returns afterwards. Some pain may also arise when the feet and toes are bent back. There are cases where you might feel small lumps along the inside of the shinbone.

When athletes feel pain anywhere along their lower legs they usually call it ‘shin splints’. But the phrase frequently serves as an umbrella term that may actually refer to a number of specific conditions. The thing about shin splints is that it shares similar symptoms with other lower leg injuries like stress fractures for example.

Medical professionals use the term medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) and some specialists say that the pain comes from damage or inflammation of the sheet that covers the tibia (the larger bone in lower leg or shinbone). Athletes and runners have a penchant for self-diagnosing their aches and discomforts. If your lower legs are on the line however, it would certainly be safer to have them examined and accurately diagnosed by doctors.

What causes them?

Most of the experts agree however that shin splints or MTSS is typically the result of too much force and pressure applied to the shinbone and its connective tissues. This stress more often than not is biomechanical in nature or comes from bad training practices. Overpronation for example is said to be a contributing factor to this injury. A sloppy running form can stress out the connective tissues as well. Excessive mileage is an erroneous practice that ultrarunners often commit and shin splints are just one of the injuries that can result from this mistake.

How to prevent shin splints

There are the usual therapeutic and medication solutions to relieve lower leg pain. But you need to address the causes of this injury in order to more effectively avoid or prevent it from becoming a recurring problem. Footwear and possibly corrective supports appropriate to your foot type might be necessary. Always be conscious of your stride movements and avoid making heel strikes as much as possible. At the same time, don’t always run on hard surfaces. Try other softer but stable terrain to give your lower legs a break from the hard rebounding force that comes from pavements. Tight calves are more susceptible to stress so stretching is important to make them flexible and better at absorbing pressure. Exercises that involve flexing your feet and toes upwards and towards your shins can make the muscles attached to the tibia stronger and thus making your lower legs more resilient against shin splint injury.


Do you have questions about shin splints, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.

Comments (6)

  • Sarah says:

    Good advice, thanks for the tips :-)

  • Hi! Nice piece on shin splints. I'd like to send a product that we are just introducing that could help with this common injury. RecoFit's patent-pending shin-splint therapy sleeves with freezer gel packs provide 2 of the 4 elements of the RICE treatment — rest, ICE, COMPRESS and elevate. And this is 2 products in 1. After the injury has healed, you continue to use the sleeves for their compressive benefits and prevent the injury from returning. I'd love to send you a pair to test. And here's a review that might be useful:
    Thanks! — Susan Eastman Walton, owner, RecoFit Compression Components

  • keyalus says:

    I am currently working through a case of MTSS. I am going to PT right now, taking NSAIDs, and doing daily exercises to help strengthen the area. I am also working on losing weight, getting fitted for custom orthotics and taking a series of classes designed to help work on my running form.

    I think all of the actions above will help me in the long run but what about in the short term? Everytime I run, I aggrevate my issues so I have decided to stop running completely for 2-3 weeks in hopes of healing. I am cross-training using the elliptical and CrossFit (excluding running & plyo stuff) right now.

    I am registered for a trail 50K that I really want to do in late-April. Will I be OK for that after 3 weeks of no running and maybe 40 miles total of running in the weeks prior? I ran a 100K (with no issues) on 3/3 and 18 miles on 3/31 before I had to stop due to pain.

    How do I rebuild my mileage once I am healed? Is there a percentage of my former weekly mileage that I should target?

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  • Tim says:

    You should really look into a golf ball muscle roller it really helped to reduced the pain and swelling that i could never get rid of in my legs http://zzathletics.com/Golf-Ball-Muscle-Roller-Ma

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