Care for shin splints and plantar fasciitis

Common injuries for runners and how to get care for them.

January 10, 2021


Some of the most common injuries in runners

Plantar fasciitis is when the muscle on the bottom of the foot is inflamed. Shin splints are when pain is felt on the front part of the lower leg below the knee. Injuries from overuse and in the lower leg like plantar fasciitis are common in runners. 

These injuries are often caused by increasing distance, speed or elevation too quickly. They can also be caused by what surface you're running on or what type of shoe you're wearing. If you don't rest properly after workouts, that can also overload your foot tissue. 

Training properly and understanding the early signs of injury can help you:

  • Enjoy your sport
  • Stop serious problems from getting worse
  • Lessen downtime
  • Heal 

Causes and symptoms 

Plantar fasciitis is usually felt near the base of the heel and into the arch of your foot. Usually the pain happens when you're standing or walking. It often happens after resting or when moving a lot.

You're more likely to get plantar fasciitis:

  • If you don’t have much range of motion in your ankle or big toe
  • If you have pronated (facing downward or inward) foot posture
  • If you are overweight or have a higher BMI
  • If you walk on hard surfaces
  • If you change your training or what kind of physical movement you’re doing 

Shin splints

There are two kinds of shin splints:

  • Medial tibial syndrome (MTSS) — the most common type where pain is spread along the front of the shin bone 
  • Stress fractures — this type can happen in many different bones and the pain is usually felt in one spot 

Stress fractures are most common in the shin bone. These kinds of fractures are most likely to happen when bones are stressed or overloaded. They can also be caused by low calcium and Vitamin D, poor eating habits and not allowing time to heal after an injury.

If you think you have a stress fracture, you should talk to your doctor to find out more about your injury.

Home care and when to see a doctor

Follow these tips if you start to feel symptoms of an injury:

  • Stop running and take time off. It’s better to rest a few days than to run when you’re injured.
  • Try to figure out what may have caused your injury. Did you change shoes or try a new type of shoe? Have you been pushing your elevation or speed? Have you increased how far you’re running?
  • Use your judgment. How much pain are you in? Is it a little bit of pain or do you need to see a doctor? Ask yourself:
    • How is your body responding to load or how much force you're using? How is your body responding to walking, running or jumping? Are you having pain during high-impact movement or while walking? If so, you should talk to a doctor.
    • Can you jump for three to five minutes without feeling pain? If so, it’s usually OK to try running. If you have more pain with jumping, you should talk to a doctor.

How to stop injuries

  • Train carefully. A good rule of thumb is to only raise your intensity, speed, distance and duration by no more than 10% overall each week. For example, if you're doing distance running, keep your elevation and speed the same for the week. A slower build-up gives your tissues time to adapt.
  • Cross train. Do movements for muscle strengthening and control. Some good muscle groups to train for strength are calves, glutes, hamstrings and quads.

For plantar fasciitis, try single-leg heel raises with the toes on a towel to help load the plantar fascia. For shin splints, strengthen the muscles around the ankle and lower leg along with control exercises, like balance exercises.

Do strengthening exercises for three sets until you're tired, including loss of form. Your goal should be 10 to 15 reps for each set. Wait three to five minutes between exercises. Strength training should be done in a slow and controlled manner.

Running should not cause pain if you're thoughtful about what you're doing. Be sure to raise your physical movement slowly over time and to cross train muscles. It's important to ask for help when you need it. Our physical therapy department can help.

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.