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Runners: Compartment Syndrome Vs. Shin Splints

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If you do a lot of running you might be passing off these "minor" injuries as no big deal. Learn more about compartment syndrome and shin splints.

Female RunnerI don’t normally write about injuries or diagnosing things simply because I am not a doctor (not saying that all doctors know what they are doing either). I do on the other hand have a little experience learning, researching and dealing with the topic of shin splints vs. compartment syndrome. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people walking around gyms and athletic fields passing off injuries as no big deal when in reality if they were a bit more educated they could put themselves in a better position.

Check out these two scenarios.

You have two guys both pretty competitive and believe to be in decent shape with all things considered.

Dude #1 has been running long distance for years but never really considered getting his gait checked out or research a good pair of shoes that would work best with his style of running. He never really gave much thought to buying quality shoes over some court classics.

He just knew he wanted to run. Just the other day he decided to hit a more aggressive trail then he’s used to and ended up paying for it the next few days. The pains in his shins were unreal!

Dude #2 would rather lay low and play a few pick up games on the weekend and challenge the boys to a trail run from time to time. 2 years ago he let his pride get the best of him and ran a bit too hard for too long and ended up on his back for almost a week due to over stressed muscles in his legs. He has had these same habits for years and just blames the chronic pains on old age. Ever since that one day his legs have never been the same.

Looking at these two guys the average person may say that they are dealing with or have dealt with some over-use issues in their legs. The pain they are feeling is more than likely due to the strain they put on them from their decisions. Very true.

This is where you really need to learn the difference between shin splints and compartment syndrome.

Dude #1 without knowing much more about his habits has clearly seen some shin splints in his day. Since none of his pain seems to be chronic and he has been running these distances for a while you may not need to worry to much but I would definitely keep an eye on him. This guy could easily just be suffering from shin splints.

Dude #2 seems to have similar pains but has a bad habit of pushing it to hard for to long. Its been his issue for years and he is starting to reap the fruits (dirty, rotten fruit) of these bad decisions. The fact that his pain is chronic sticks out the most to me. This guy could be a candidate for compartment syndrome and he doesn’t even know it.

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Compartment Syndrome VS. Shin Splints

Compartment Syndrome

Assuming everyone has some kind of idea of what shin splints are I am not going to touch on them too much. I want to keep the main focus on Compartment Syndrome.

Similar to the shin splint, compartment syndrome (C.S) can be found in the lower leg (can also be found in other places but I want to focus on the leg). Your muscle bodies are grouped and bound together in what are known as compartments. Each compartment has its own set of veins, arteries and nerves to innervate that compartment and pump fresh blood in and out.

These compartments can either get damaged or undergo excessive use (years of sports or a heavily active lifestyle) and become over worked. When a specific compartment has been damaged or sees excessive overuse the fascia that surrounds the compartment can become over tight crushing the arteries, veins and nerves that may be in that compartment.

This is where the C.S is in full affect. Once these compartments become crushed the lack of blood flow and nerve response slowly diminishes. Leading to what could be permanent damage. Once this tissue has tightened to the point where the individual has a chronic pain in that area he/she is past the point where R.I.C.E. is the #1 treatment.

How do I know if I have it?

The only true way of knowing is being checked out by a doctor. They usually do a series of tests one of them being a compartment pressure test (most obvious). With this they simply test the pressure of the compartment that is causing the pain. If the pressure is high, odds are they diagnose you with C.S especially if you have been dealing with it for years.

If the pressure is normal then a major case of the shin splints may be your only diagnosis (as long as other overuse and strain injuries are ruled out). The only real way to relieve C.S is surgery where the doctor cuts into the specific compartment and manually relieves the pressure…not fun.

How can I prevent it?

Just like you do for shin splints you need to watch your increase in activity. If your just starting out signing up for a 5k to get the ball rolling is not the best decision. Working your distances in as the weeks progress will give your body time to adjust.

Another common issue is running technique. We are natural pronators when it comes to running (pronation is when you tilt your heel and drive your toes towards the ceiling). This turns into an issue because in order to pronate the foot the muscle known as the Anterior Tibialis (front side of shin) needs to contract. If you pronate too much or have a poor running technique then this muscle will get over worked causing the shin splints or worse, C.S.

If you think you may have shin splints here are a few things you can do to ease the pain and hopefully have a quick recovery.

Key things to watch for:

  • Increasing distance to fast.
  • Not giving your body proper recovery time.
  • Not stretching after runs or heavy activity.
  • Over pronating.
  • Being a heel dominate runner.
  • Injury that causes any serious swelling over a long period of time.

Keep these things in check and be sure to check with your doctor if any pain gets worse and sticks around for more than a few days. Be sure to hit like if you got anything out of this post! As always thanks for the support.

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  • About The Author
    My name is William Richards and I am pumped to be able to bring you some of the latest fitness news and techniques used inside and out of the gym.
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