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As cooler autumn weather approaches, it seems to be the perfect time to head out on a not-quite-so-dusty trail for a long run. Whether the run itself is the outcome or you are preparing your legs for turns down Mt. Bachelor in just a few months, nothing puts a damper on those plans like the striking pain of shin splints.

“Posteromedial tibia stress syndrome, known to most as “shin splints,” is caused by repeated stress and inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around the tibia – where the muscle attaches to the bone,” explains Dr. Timothy Bollom, orthopedic surgeon at The Center. “(It is) super common in runners and jumpers and dancers (with a) 13-17% occurrence rate,” he continues. “It is important to know the difference from a stress fracture; key point – stress fractures are usually a specific point of pain over the bone, while shin splints are a more of a stretched pain lingering down the entire shin.” In the beginning, symptoms may subside after the activity has stopped, but over time the pain can become continuous.

The most common factors leading to this over-use injury are, according to Dr. Bollom, “…improper shoe wear, muscle imbalance, lack of stretching, and non-gradual training.” Especially for runners, shoes need to be switched out every 300-500 miles or every 4-8 months.

There are times when the pain does not subside from basic treatment and rest. Your orthopedic doctor may want to make sure you do not have a stress fracture – this can be caused by stress and overuse of the area. An MRI may be suggested to help diagnose a more consistent pain.

Although treatment for both shin splints and stress fractures can heal with a combination of rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, stretching, physical therapy, and modifications in training, it is always best to avoid this painful diagnosis all-together. With simple behavior modifications, such as properly fitting footwear, cross training, and slowly building your fitness level you may avoid this pain creeping into your legs.