Shin splints is the common name for Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). The pain is located on the lower 2/3 of the inner part of the shin bone. It is very common in new runners and those who have suddenly increased the amount of running they are doing (often in preperation for a race).
what causes shin splints?
As is commmon with most running injuries, shin splints are caused by an increased load being placed on the injury site. In this case the shin bone (tibia) is overloaded when there is not enough recovery time before heading out for the next run. The tibia's bone structure gets micro damage at a cellular level. If this process of increased loading with inadequate recovery continues the tiba is not able to repair quickly enough, resulting in pain. When this contidion is ignored the symptoms will more than likely contniue to increase and at worst a stress fracture may occur. Therefore it is important to listen to your body and seek advise when things are not improving.
Calf and foot strength have an important role to play in reducing the impact forces that occur at the lower leg. If these are reduced it is likely this is the main reason you are experiencing MTSS pain. In additon to calf strength the muscles of the upper leg (glutes and quads) also reduce the force going through the lower leg.
Additionally there may be biomechanical issues that cause increased torsional forces in the tbia (dropped medial foot arch and an inward turning knee). There are also running technique errors that can be picked up on gait analysis video that can contribute to shin splints. Often overstriding (too long a stride length) and a crossover gait pattern (running with feet too narrow), will need to be addressed as part of your returning to running plan.
treatment for shin splints
Settling MTSS and returning to running quickly can be difficult to achieve. It all depends on how severe the pain is and how long you have had it. The condition can often be slow to settle and therefore it is really important to not push into pain with this problem.
Addressing the strength defecits mentioned above with specific exercises along with slight changes to your running gait will all help to reduce the loading forces at the tibia and subsequently your pain. Careful management of your running schedule and reintroducing running slowly will be an important factor to ensure the problem does not return.