The (Nearly) Definitive Guide to Shin Splints [New research offers surprising answers to the who, how, why and what now of running pain] Featured

Authors: TheGreatFitnessExperiment

The (Nearly) Definitive Guide to Shin Splints [New research offers surprising answers to the who, how, why and what now of running pain]

kinda doesn’t look so sexy now… Image from

Peeing while camping. Opening jars. Changing in public. The freedom to have pit hair long enough to braid and not even care. There are some occasions when it would be pretty awesome to be a dude. And now I can add running to that list. While we’ve known for a long time that guys are typically faster, have more endurance thanks to 30% more lung capacity and, of course, have 100% fewer lines at race biffies, new research published in the current issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that women are 3 times as likely as men to get shin splints. And if that’s not bad enough, when we do get shin splints our girly ones are 1.5-3.5 times more likely to progress to stress fractures.

I had two immediate reactions to this research:

1. Yay – now I have a new party trick! Hey guys, watch me limp up stairs… all sexy like!

2. It’s about time science explains Chuck Norris.

Why are we ladies so special? The researchers speculate that this may be due to increased prevalence of osteoporosis in women, the effects of the pregnancy and menstrual hormones in relaxing the ligaments in the feet and legs, our larger Q-angle (the angle from your hip to your knee that has been linked to increased knee injuries in women) and… the prolonged wearing of high heels. Yeah, your Friday date-night stilettos might be contributing to your Saturday morning running pain.

As a girl who is sort of prone to shin splints (when I’m running a lot, which I’m not currently) and gave myself stress fractures in my right shin a few years ago, I found this news particularly interesting. (Especially because right now my husband has bad shin splints and I don’t and I’m just snarky enough to brag about it on the Internet.) See, stress fractures hold a special place in my heart. Fun GFE fact: They are actually how this blog came to be born!

Five years ago I was in the midst of my over-exercising eating disorder and running, kickboxing, weight lifting, stepping, Bosu-ing and jump roping way too much. But mostly running. At the beginning of my runs I’d feel some heat and then sharp pain in my shins but after a mile or two (and a compulsive thought or two…hundred) the pain disappeared and I’d feel fine. Until I’d finished my run and cooled down and then all of a sudden the pain would be back and be much worse. Eventually I was limping almost all the time. But instead of resting it I kept pushing through the pain and stress fractured my shin. My doctor ordered me off all weight-bearing exercises for six weeks – not even walking on the treadmill! This left me with swimming and biking. And we all know how I feel about being wet and cold. So biking it was! (In retrospect I think she may have actually told me not to bike either. I wasn’t good at listening then.) But I kinda hate biking too. It makes my lady bits hurt. (Yes, even with padded bike shorts.) So in an effort to find a way to get the biggest bang for my cycling buck so I could get off of there faster, I discovered a form of Tabata sprints on the bike – except it used a 12/8 second interval. That became my first official Great Fitness Experiment! Eventually I got tired of explaining to people why I looked like Kermit the Frog on speed so I started the blog to consolidate my research (er, “research”) into one place.

The (Nearly) Definitive Guide to Shin Splints [New research offers surprising answers to the who, how, why and what now of running pain]

This is so totally how I ride bikes. 

Causes of Shin Splints

While being female and exercising too much definitely contribute to shin splints and stress fractures, other risk factors include:

- Having flat feet and/or overpronating – both conditions that affect proportionally more women than men.

- Upping your mileage too quickly. (Experts recommend upping your distance by no more than 10% at a time.)

- Shoes. Camp A: Wearing shoes that are too old, runners should be replaced every 3-6 months. OR Camp B: Wearing shoes at all. Modern shoes have screwed up our natural stride and small muscle control so you should wear barefoot trainers or just your bare feet.

- Poor nutrition. A weak diet equals weak bones.

- Running on cement or pavement. Supposedly those surfaces don’t have much give so experts advice running on a track, grass or trail when possible. (Just don’t trip on a tree root!)

How to Tell if You Have Shin Splints

The other interesting aspect of this study was the researchers discovered a two-part test for assessing whether or not someone has shin splints or is in danger of developing them. This is great because now you can catch them earlier before they have a chance to fracture. (My spell-checker just autocorrected “fracture” to “fractal” – which how awesome would it be if my shins could fractal?!)

The first test involves having someone else put their hand on your shin, wrapping their fingers around the inside edge of your shin bone and “squeezing hard enough to wring out a sponge.” If it hurts you have a positive result.

The second test has that same someone poke their finger into your lower shin to check for edema (swelling). If the indentation from their finger remains for a bit then it’s a positive result.

Get a positive on both tests and you’re 8 times more likely to develop shin fractures! Whether you use this as a diagnostic tool or a fun new way to pick up that hottie at the gym is totally up to you.

What to Do If You Have Shin Splints

The advice for healing shin splints is pretty much the same as the advice for avoiding them (see above) plus a lot (A LOT) of rest. Ice and ibuprofen also pop up a lot. This is probably a good time to point out that I’m not a doctor so if you’re worried about pain when you’re running and you’re not a Muppet, you should totally go talk to yours!

Your Advice?

Have you ever had shin splints? How did you get them and how did you get over them? What makes you sometimes wish you could be a member of the opposite sex??


Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying EverythingThe (Nearly) Definitive Guide to Shin Splints [New research offers surprising answers to the who, how, why and what now of running pain] for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!

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