Today on the Doc on the Run podcast, we’re talking about whether or not you can run with shin splints.
All of the runners who I see on webcam visits, who I see in person and all those who call me for a consultation over the phone, they all want to know how to run when injured. And most of the time even if you get a running injury, you really should be able to continue running through that injury. And the good news is that in most cases of running injuries, you don’t have to just stop running completely, waste away while recovering from an over-training injury and watch your fitness all vanish in front of you.
So I got a call from a patient who asked me really simply, “Is it okay to run on shin splints?” The short answer is yes, you can run on shin splints if it shin splints. The problem is, is that there are a couple of different conditions that are often called shin splints that could be something else. And if you have shin splints and it really is just this thing called medial tibial stress syndrome, yes, you can run on that and it’s not really going to be a problem in the short term.
If you have anterior shin splints where you have irritation of the muscle on the front of your leg, that pulls your foot forward that often happens when you’re doing hill training, running stairs, things like that where you actually have to pull your foot up a lot. That’s just a very temporary condition, that soreness in the muscle belly. So if you have either of those two things that really are what we think of as shin splints, it’s totally fine to do that for a short period of time.
The anterior tibial shin splints will go away anyway if you continue to get stronger, and medial tibial stress syndrome is not dangerous in itself. But why I say it’s okay to run on it only for a short period of time is that if you have medial tibial stress syndrome or true shin splints and you continue to run on it, train on it, irritated, aggravate it, build up chronic inflammation in that area, the chronic inflammation and that cycle of chronic inflammation with increased blood flow in that area, and degradative enzymes that can damage tissue will over a long period of time medial tibial stress syndrome or shin splints can turn into a tibial stress fracture.
The other thing is that many times you get what is called shin splints by your trainer, your coach, or even your doctor when it’s actually already a tibial stress fracture. And a tibial stress fracture is a dangerous thing. Your tibia can actually break if you keep running on it. So in short, yes, if you have shin splints, yes, you can run on it for a short period of time if you know for sure it shin splints and not a tibial stress fracture.
The other thing is that yes, you can run on it. If you can decrease the strain that caused the shin splints in the first place and if they’re continuing to get better. So if you have shin splints and you’re doing some stuff to reduce the stress and strain so that it doesn’t hurt when you run and your shin splints are actually healing and recovering and getting better as you run, then you can in that scenario, keep training any way without the concern that it’s going to chronically get worse and turn into a tibial stress fracture.
The key here is that you just have to make sure you understand how to know the difference between conditions and understand how to reduce the stress so you can keep running and training without worry. And one thing that’s really helpful is to understand your specific goals. So if you have shin splints and you’re supposed to do the Boston Marathon in a week, you should probably just do the Boston Marathon.
If you qualified for Boston and you have months and months to train, you really don’t want to aggravate your shin splints for months and then have to stop training and lose all that fitness and all those months of work you’ve put into it, when you really should be ramping up your final build phase and your final training for Boston. So timing is very important. Understanding your goals is very important.
So go to the docontherun.com website, go to the podcast section on that page at the bottom of the show notes for this episode, you can get the Healing Runners Goal worksheet. It’s basically just a PDF that you can print off, it’s free. It will help you understand your goals, put them into the proper perspective so then you can really decide whether or not it’s appropriate for you to keep running, keep training, or take some time off now to try to fast track the healing.
And if you do that before you talk to a doctor, then if you see a doctor who actually is an expert on running injuries, they can really help you make the right decision about whether or not you should run with the condition that you have right now. Or if you should take some time off to rest it. Or if you should do something in between and kind of modify your workouts to reduce the stress so that you can keep training and maintain all of your running fitness.
That’s really the key. So go get it, print it out, fill it out, and it will help you to keep training, keep running, and get back to your goal race as quickly as possible.
One simple step you can take is start with the Healing Runner’s Goal Worksheet.
It will help you take what you know about goal setting in running and use what you already know to focus your healing. It’s free.
Go get it now!
If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!