I’ve been a runner for about 30 years. I average about 20 miles each week. I compete in about 3 marathons each year, usually two halfs and one full. I guess you could say I’m lucky because I’ve had no real injuries. Just the basic sore toes and stuff. About four weeks ago, I started developing pain in my right shin, and I think it may be shin splints, because the pain goes halfway up the bone, but is not over the bone. I tried backing off during my workouts, but the pain eventually got so bad that I had to stop completely. I’m on day 15 now without running, and I can still feel pain when I walk. How long will the pain last and when can I start running again?
– Rob, Macungie, PA
Rob: Shin splints are one of the worst nightmares for a runner, and it sure sounds like that’s the problem. The pain from shin splints is due to overuse and occurs because the muscle and tissues around your tibia bone are working too hard. And we know from personal experience how excruciating it can be – there’s no pain quite like it.
But if you’ve been running for most of your life, it’s unusual that shin splints would suddenly appear unless you’ve changed your workout in some way, or started wearing athletic shoes which don’t fit or have no padding (we’re sure the latter isn’t the case). The real cause of the pain is overworked leg muscles, which can be caused by a stress fracture, collapsing arches, or something else which is causing you to unconsciously change the way you run. Or perhaps you’ve recently intensified your workout or started running on a hard surface?
You’re going to have to sit on the sidelines until the pain completely (and we men completely) subsides. Use ice for 20-30 minutes when needed, and mange the pain with over the counter pain meds like advil or aleve. Light stretching exercises will help to work the muscles in your legs which will speed healing.
When you get back on the road, make sure you’re doing proper warmups before training and increase your training very slowly to re-introduce your leg muscles to the routine. It’s helpful to run or walk on soft surfaces during this time. And by all means, make sure you’re wearing running shoes which fit properly and have plenty of padding where it counts. If the pain starts up again, make an appointment with our office for an exam, because you might need custom orthotics to properly align your foot, ankle, and leg. Good luck, Rob.