Looking for the best strategies on how to get rid of shin splints?
Then you’ve come to the right place.
Shin splints is a common overuse injury. According to the National Institute of Health, this condition is widespread among runners but also afflicts dancers, gymnasts, and military recruits.
Fortunately, this insidious injury is both curable and preventable.
In today’s comprehensive guide, I’ll dive into everything you need to know about shin splints, and that includes:
- What are shinsplints
- Shin splints symptoms
- The mechanism behind the injury
- What causes shin splints
- Warning signs of shin splints
- How to diagnose shin splints
- How to treat shin splints
- How to get rid of shin splints
- And so much, so much, more.
Let’s dig in.
The Anatomy Of Shin Splints
Shin splints is caused, in short, by a mechanical malfunction of one—or more—of the structures that make up the lower leg. That’s why understanding the anatomical makeup of the lower legs may improve your understanding of these causative variables.
In other words, it’s time for anatomy 101.
As you can see in the picture, the lower legs comprise many muscles, bones, and tendons. The primary structures of the lower leg affected by the pain caused by shin splints are:
The Tibia and Fibula
These are the two primary bones that make up the lower leg. The tibia is found on the inside of, the medial part, whereas the fibula is located on the outside, the lateral part, of the lower leg. The main function of these bones to support your knees, hips, and pelvis.
The Lower Leg Muscles
- Soleus (Lower calf),
- Gastrocnemius (Upper calf);
- Plantaris (Upper calf);
- Tibialis posterior (Upper calf), and
- Tibialis anterior (Shin).
Together, the muscles move your lower leg as well as stabilize your foot and ankle. They’re all also associated—in one way or the other—with shin splints pain. Overuse of these muscles can cause a pull on the fibula and tibia bones, causing shin-splints-related pain.
The Definition Of Shin Splints
Shin splints can hinder your training whether you just took up running or are a seasoned marathoner. The pain is nagging, stubborn, and really, really, annoying.
So what are they all about?
Shin splints are the “all–catch” term commonly used to describe a wide range of lower-leg injuries and lower-leg exercise-induced pain.
More specifically, and also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints is an overuse injury infamous for nagging pain along the front—anterior—portion of the shin, usually toward the inside of the tibia bone.
In most cases, shin splints occur as a direct result of the repeated impact on the bone tissue, tendons, and muscles surrounding the tibia, leading to inflammation of the connective tissue. This tissue is known as fascia and it’s what covers and joins the muscles of the lower leg to the shin bone.
The injury is also pretty common. According to a survey, shin splints account for 10 percent of injuries in male runners and roughly 16 percent in female runners.
The good news is that shin splints are not a serious injury and can be treated with simple measures—provided that you pay heed to the condition early on before it gets any worse.
You can also do a few things to guard your lower legs against this condition, helping you prevent it in the long term (more on this later).
Symptoms Of Shin Splints
The main symptom of shin splints is a dull or aching pain in the front of the shins, usually felt in an area measuring roughly 5 inches in length on either side of the shinbone or in the muscles surrounding it. The pain may radiate from the tops of the feet up toward and through the knee.
In mild shin splints, you might feel pain at the first few minutes of a run but subsides after your muscles have warmed up. You may also experience discomfort if you press along the length of the bone. The condition can also be present in one or both legs.
In most cases, the pain is worse in the morning—especially right after stepping out of bed—since muscle tissue tends to tighten up overnight—with extreme inflammation and tenderness.
The shin bone might be painful on contact, and you might also feel actual bumps and lumps along the affected area..
In severe cases of the condition, this connective tissue can be under so much stress that it’s forced to split and separate from the shin bone, which is very painful and sometimes excruciating, involving a slow and long healing process.
Ignore shin splints can progress to a more insidious injury: tibial stress fracture.
Shin Pain is not Always A Shin Splint
As mentioned in the definition section, shin pain is not always a case of shin splints.
A host of other ailments and injuries plague the lower legs other than MTSS.
For example, pain and tenderness on the outside part of the lower leg might be blamed on compartment syndrome, which occurs when excessive pressure builds up within a “closed compartment,” leading to swelling and pain.
Another common injury that plagues the lower leg is what’s known as stress fractures—which are tiny cracks in the bones. This injury happens to have far more serious ramifications (and requires a longer recovery time) than shin splints.
How Are Shin Splints Diagnosed?
The best way to diagnose shin splints—as is the case with any other condition—is to consult a physical therapist or a sports medicine doctor and then perform a thorough physical examination, including an assessment of your training volume and physiology and training risk factors.
At least the basics have to be covered before you make any decision.
If you’ve been experiencing pain for long periods, you might need additional testing to rule out other conditions.
The most common method is a simple scan to help rule out a larger tear in the local tendons or a tibia stress fracture. A compartment pressure test can also be conducted to rule out chronic exertional compartments syndrome
Testing At Home
To check yourself for the condition, squeeze the lower two-thirds of your lower leg, including the shin bone and the surrounding muscular structure.
You’re positive if you feel pain, bumps, or lumps all along the bone.
In extreme cases, shin splints can become so bad that’s impossible to even stand or walk on the injured limb without experiencing excruciating pain.
Causes of Shin Splints
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of shin splints, but, like most overuse injuries, it always goes back to doing too much too soon.
Specifically, beginners who take up running for the first time or those returning to the sport from a break or injury who increase their mileage too fast are at risk of developing shin splints.
Here’s the truth.
Your body needs time—and a lot of it—to adapt to the high-impact stresses of running.
Running, as well as other forms of high-impact exercise, causes micro-tears in your muscles. These are harmless when you take plenty of recovery since muscle fiber heals between workouts. That’s one reason I always say that recovery is as important as the training itslef. There’s no way around that.
But, when you increase your training load too quickly—whether it’s ramping up speed, mileage, or both—you’ll cause more drastic tears in the muscle fiber or postpone recovery of the normal micro-tears in the tibialis anterior.
Subsequently, you accumulate more damage, leading to more weakness and inflammation. This, as you can already tell, sets the stage for injury.
Here are some of the main factors that can lead to the overload of the muscles in the lower legs:
Weak lower body muscles, especially hips and calves. Research has found a link between shin splints and weak hip abductors.
Poor running form, e.i. Overstriding, too much heel striking, etc.
Downhill running. It’s believed that too much downhill running can put a lot of stress on the muscles of the front of the tibia.
- Running in improper footwear
- Running on hard or unstable surfaces, like concrete, sidewalks, or snow.
- Biomechanic issues, such as being flat-footed.
- Runners with lower bone density—especially female runners.
- A high body mass index
- A history of overuse injury
How To Treat Shin Splints
Treating shin splints—as well as other overuse injuries—should start with the RICE method.
Although shin splints are not serious, treating them before they become a chronic, debilitating injury is vital.
The moment you come down with symptoms, do the following:
Rest is key since shin splints result from repetitive stress being applied to the lower legs, so any more high-impact activity will only exacerbate the condition.
As a rule, avoid doing any type of running (and any other high-impact exercise) until you can do it pain-free.
Instead, stop running altogether, or, at least, drastically reduce your weekly mileage as long as there is pain.
Ice the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes three to four times daily to reduce pain and swelling.
And keep icing it daily until the injured area is no longer inflamed or/and painful to touch.
In cases of severe pain, consider taking Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), like aspirin or ibuprofen, to soothe the pain and speed up recovery.
But be careful not to overdo it.
Research shows that these over-the-counter pills have side effects, like ulcers. That’s why you should only take them for a short period, preferably under the guidance of a certified physician.
How Long Does It Take To Recovery From Shin Splints
I don’t have the exact answer since recovery time depends on how long and severe you’ve had the symptoms.
But overall, expect the following recovery periods:
- Symptoms for less than a month – Expect three to four months to fully recover.
- Symptoms for one to three months – Expect four to six months for a full recovery.
- Symptoms for more than three months – Expect more than six months for a full recovery.
During the downtime, you might opt for an alternative, low-impact exercises such as spinning, swimming, pool running, elliptical machine, weight lifting, or yoga to keep your fitness in check.
If the pain persists and symptoms fail to improve (despite taking the right RICE measures), seek immediate medical assessment to check for other causes for your stubborn shin pain.
As you can already tell, shin splints do not heal that fat, but the earlier you get the right treatment, the quicker your recovery will be. The rest is just details.
Scoring a Running Comeback
As a rule of thumb, you must slowly re-start your running engines.
In other words, avoid rushing back into training. If you start to exercise before your shin completely heals, you may risk a flare-up, and you don’t want that.
Once you return to training, avoid hard surfaces or steep hills until you are sure that the shin pain has gone away completely and you have fully recovered.
How to Get Rid of Shin Splints
My motto when dealing with a running injury is “prevention is better than cure.”
Hence, prevention should always be your first objective. Preventing shin splints should involve following sound training strategies such as progressive mileage increase, strengthening the muscles of the lower legs, and using proper running footwear.
Let’s discuss a few.
The first rule to prevent all sorts of sports injuries is to avoid the “three too’s” trap—doing too much, too soon, too fast.
Sudden increases in training volume/distance/intensity can overwork your lower legs, making you more prone to various injuries.
So, instead of falling into this classic trap, increase your distance and speed gradually and slowly over time.
For the complete beginner, start with the walk/run method. This consists of 20 to 30 minutes alternating between jogging and walking every other day.
For the full guide on this method, check my post here. But what if you’re already a regular runner? Then stick with the 10 percent rule.
That’s the golden principle to abide by whenever you want to increase training duration and intensity.
And it’s quite simple.
The 10 percent rule states that you should never increase your weekly training load by more than 10 percent from one week to the next.
Strengthening your lower leg muscles may help prevent this common injury by making them stronger, increasing their ability to handle the impact. Your main goal is to increase your calf muscles’ localized muscular capacity and your tibia’s bone load capacity.
So what kind of exercises you should be doing to prevent shin splints?
Simple. Strengthen your feet, ankles, calves, and hips, which support your shins.
The following exercises are exactly what you need.
Not only will they help you prevent future flare-ups, but they are also effective at relieving pain if you’re already afflicted.
You can perform the following exercises as either a part of your warm-up sequence or as a routine in itself two to three times per week.
Perform 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise in sets of two to three.
Straight-leg Calf Raise
Eccentric Calf Raises
Although the science is still hazy on the effectiveness of stretching in preventing injury, I’d still recommend it as a part of a proactive injury prevention protocol.
According to theory, stretching the posterior leg muscles (especially the calves) along and the muscles surrounding the shin bone (especially the anterior tibialis) may be effective at keeping shin pain at bay.
Here are a few of the stretches
Standing Shin Stretch
The anterior Shin Muscle Stretch
The Toe Alphabet Stretch
Trace the alphabet with your toes.
The Calf Stretch
Fix Your Form
Improper running form is often blamed for shin splints. Bad form can disrupt your kinetic chain, triggering biomechanical dysfunctions that may cause symptoms to recur even if you resume running slowly.
Here’s how to improve your running technique.
Here are two measures to take:
The first thing you need to do is to avoid heel striking—or landing heels first when running.
According to theory, the heel strike places excessive stress on the lower leg.
Heel striking causes the foot to slap down on the pavement, forcing the lower leg muscles to work harder than usual.
This may place excessive stress on the lower legs, increasing the risks of shin splints and other running-related injuries.
Also, heel striking often leads to overstriding.This may increase injury risk and reduce running efficiency.
Here is an awesome YouTube tutorial explaining the difference between heel striking and midfoot running.
Next, shorten your stride. If you have a terrible history of shin splints, then consider slightly shortening your normal stride—roughly 10 percent.
Research has revealed that subjects who shorten their stride by 10 percent reduced the risks of tibial stress injury by three to six percent.
By shortening your stride, you’ll be landing softer with each foot strike, thus, experiencing reduced impact.
So, invest at least a couple of weeks purposely running with a relatively short stride.
Lastly, improve your cadence, which is the number of steps you take per minute.
It’s also known as leg turnover.
To determine your cadence, count your foot strikes on one side for one minute, then multiply that by two.
A good number is 170 to 180 strikes per minute—depending, of course, on your biomechanics and training speed/intensity.
For the full guide on cadence, check my post here.
Wear The Right Shoes
Training in ill-fitting or worn-out shoes are a leading cause of injury. Proper foot wear helps reduce running-related high-impact stresses, whereas a worn-out or ill-fitting pair won’t.
Choose stable, supportive, running shoes that suits your individual needs. A good pair should have the right mix of shock absorption and support for your running needs and anatomy.
Rather than buying your shoes online or at a sporting goods store, head to a running specialty store.
The expert staff will assess your unique biomechanical and gait type and make the most appropriate recommendations.
Also, replace your sneakers every 400 to 500 miles—or at least every year if you do not log serious miles weekly.
Try Compression Socks
According to research, compression garments may help limit inflammation and swelling around damaged muscles, tissues, or bone.
Not only that, but research has also found that it reduces muscle damage and may speed up recovery following a hard workout.
For these reasons, compression gear, especially compression socks, might effectively treat and prevent shin pain.
Of course, no conclusive research has proved that compression socks are effective at preventing shin splints.
But I believe it’s worth considering—especially if you don’t mind investing a $50 to $70 per pair.
Just get the right compression socks. Make sure they fit well, giving your calves a tight squeeze while promoting blood flow to the region and not feeling too constrictive.
Also, get a pair with the right amount of compression per sock.
According to research, shooting for 20 to 24 mmHg at the ankle is ideal.
Plus, make sure they are made with technical, high-performance fabrics that are breathable and look good.
Foam Roll or Massage
According to many experts, foam rolling is one of the simplest yet effective ways of dealing with shin pain (and other overuse injuries).
How does it Help?
In essence, foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release or self-massage that removes adhesions in the muscles and connective tissue.
Left unchecked, these adhesions can create points of weakness in the tissue, leading to susceptibility to pain and injury.
And you don’t want that.
Further, foam rolling also reduces muscle tension, promotes blood circulation, and increases mobility, which are key to faster recovery and injury prevention.
Of course, foam rolling might feel tight or painful at first, but this is a good sign.
Be sure to roll your shins and calves for 30 to 60 seconds, then take breaks of an equal period.
Repeat the process four to five times, at least five times per week.
Check out this YouTube tutorial:
Another possible way to get rid of shin splints is Acupuncture.
Based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, Acupuncture involves sticking thin needles into particular energy points, releasing a variety of substances, including serotonin, endorphins, etc.
This can help alleviate pain and inflammation.
Research published in the Journal of Chinese Medicine revealed that Acupuncture could be quite effective in treating symptoms associated with shin splints, especially during the early stages of onset.
The researchers found that acupuncture treatment—twice weekly for three weeks—is more effective at treating shin splints than physiotherapy and the use of anti-inflammatories when treating this condition.
Rest and Recovery
As I have stated, the leading cause of shin splints—and most overuse running injuries for that matter—is overuse. As a runner, you should have already realized the time between runs is as important as the training itself. There’s no way around that.
Your body repairs itself and returns stronger during this recovery time. However, skipping on it can result in musculoskeletal issues, which, in turn, can become very painful and take much longer to heal properly.
As a result, sometimes, the best course of action to take in the presence of shin splints is to stop running altogether.
Just don’t get me wrong.
This does not mean giving up all physical exercise altogether either.
Just because you’re dealing with shin splints does not mean the end of your training.
Instead, do plenty of cross-training exercises, opting for activities that do not put excessive stress on the injured limb, such as cycling, swimming, etc.
Then, once your symptoms subside—likely in a matter of a couple of weeks— slowly reintroduce, running into your training program.
Just make sure to listen to your body the entire time, paying attention to any signs of pain or tenderness during and after training.
Seek out Professional Help
If the above measures prove futile in your quest to get rid of shin splints, then you SHOULD seek the help of a professional health provider.
Biomechanics can contribute to shin splints, whether you’ve severe muscle imbalances, tend to overstride, or have poor posture.
These are not the issues you can solve on your own, especially if you don’t know what type of underlying issues you’re dealing with in the first place.
Hence, you require outside help—not from a blog or a magazine article—but from a real certified professional.
I recommend visiting a podiatrist or physical therapist with experience helping out runners.
They should assess your running form and biomechanics and see if it’s possible to single out what might be contributing to or causing your pain.
Then, once a clear conclusion is reached, prescribe specific drills, stretches, and strengthening exercises to help fix the underlying issue(s).
You can also experiment with treating your shin pain with electrotherapy methods, such as electronic muscle stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, or microcurrent.
In addition, consider taping the injured limb with medical-grade tape. Research has shown that it can decrease swelling, increase the range of motion, and provide support for the muscles of the lower leg.
There you have it! If you’re dealing right now – or have a history of – shin splints, then today’s article should get you started on the right foot when it comes to treating and preventing the condition. The rest is just details.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime thank you for dropping by.
Keep running strong.