The Top of My Shin Muscle Hurts When Running

Woman having leg injury
Excessive hill running can trigger shin pain. (Image: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images)

Anyone can experience muscle pain at the top of the shin area no matter your age, gender or fitness level. This area contains numerous nerves, connective tissues and muscles -- including the tibialis anterior, the peroneus longus and the extensor digitorum longus. Shin pain can be caused by a variety of environmental factors and conditions. Because shin pain can be debilitating, it is important to understand why it can occur while running and how you can treat it.

Shin Pain Symptoms

Pain at the top of the shin while you are running can vary from mild to severe. It can cease suddenly after you stop running or linger long after exercise. Besides pain, additional symptoms can include shin tenderness, swelling, soreness, inflammation, warmth, bruising and redness. Pain can also cause instability or problems with mobility, making running difficult or even impossible.

Causes of Shin Pain

The impact of your heels striking the ground can cause pain in the shin area. In addition, pain can occur if you overuse the muscles around your shins with excessive running, long distances or frequently pushing yourself off with your toes. Jogging on hard or unstable surfaces, such as concrete or ice, can also strain the muscles at the top of the shin area, resulting in pain. In addition, side-sloping streets, improper shoes and excessive downhill running can trigger pain.

Treatments for Shin Pain

Rest your legs and avoid running until symptoms subside. Try another exercise such as swimming until you can walk without pain. Place ice on your shin for about 15 minutes at a time to help constrict blood vessels and relieve pain. Elevate your legs above your heart to drain fluid from the injury and ease pain. An over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen can reduce symptoms. Always wear proper running shoes that are suited for your stride and foot type.

Warning Signs

Although shin splints -- an inflammation of the muscles and connective tissues on your shin -- is rarely serious, shin pain can also indicate a stress fracture, tendinitis or chronic exertional compartment syndrome. Do not ignore shin pain when running. Doing so can increase symptoms and worsen the injury. Contact a doctor if muscle pain in the shin area is chronic or occurs after an accident or fall. If your skin is hot to the touch or if you experience swelling that seems to worsen, contact your doctor. These could be signs of a serious infection or injury.

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