Looking for the best guidelines on how to get rid of shin splints?
Look no more.
Shin splints are some of the most common running injuries of all times. I have had it in the past, multiple times, and I haven’t yet come across a runner who didn’t suffer through it at some point in their running career.
Obviously, shin splints are more widespread among runners, especially beginners, and long-distance runners. Not only that, shin splints are also pretty common among dancers, gymnasts and military recruits, according to the National Institute of Health.
Good news is shin splints are both curable and preventable. Inside of this blog post, you will learn all there is to know about shin splints warning signs, symptoms, the best treatment plan and the ideal prevention measures so you can ward off shin splints for the rest of your running life.
So you are excited? Then here we go…
The Definition Of Shin Splints
Whether you are a new comer to running, or a seasoned marathoner ramping up mileage/intensity for your next race, shin splints can really hinder your training. In fact, nothing can slow you as a runner like the nagging pain of shin splints.
Shin splints are the “all–catch” term commonly used to describe a wide range of lower-leg injuries and lower leg exercise-induced pain. But in the running world, shin splints injury usually describe the medical condition known as medial tibial stress syndrome, or MTSS for short.
Shin splints, or MTSS, is pain that’s felt along the inner edge the tibia—the shin bone, which is the large bone in the front of the lower leg (see picture).
In most cases, shin splints occur as a direct result of the repeated impact to the bone tissue, tendons, and muscles surrounding the tibia, leading to inflammation of the connective tissue—what’s known as fascia—that covers and joins the muscles of the lower leg to the shin bone.
According to 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.
What’s more? There are also a few things you can do to guard your lower legs against this condition, helping you prevent it for the long term.
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 up from the tops of the feet up toward and through the knee.
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 areas of extreme inflammation and tenderness. In fact, the shin bone might be painful on contact, and you might also feel actual bumps and lumps when the touching the painful 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.
Shin Pain is not Always A Shin Splint
As I have already mentioned in the definition section, shin pain is not always a case of shin splints. In fact, there is a host of other ailments and injuries that plague the lower legs other than MTSS. Other common causes of lower leg pain include compartment syndrome, stress fractures or just general shin soreness.
For example, pain and tenderness on the outside part of the lower leg might be blamed on compartment syndrome, which is a condition that 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 know 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.
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.
If you feel any pain or bumps and lumps all along the bone, you’re positive.
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 running injuries, the main root of most trouble can be traced back to one thing: Overuse.
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. In fact, research has found a link between shin splints and weak hip abductor.
- 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 the improper footwear can contribute to the onset of the condition.
- Running on hard, or unstable surfaces, like concrete, sidewalks or snow.
- Biomechanics issues, such as being flat-footed.
- Runners with lower bone density—especially female runners.
How to Treat Shin Splints
When it comes to treating most running injuries, the RICE method should be your first line of defense.
Although shin splints are not a serious injury, it’s vital that you treat it before it turns into a chronic, debilitating injury.
As a result, upon the onset any shin pain, immediately do the following:
Rest is key since shin splints occur as a result of repetitive stress being applied to the lower legs, so any more high impact activity will only exacerbate the condition.
Therefore, you shouldn’t be doing any type of running (and any other high impact exercise) until it can be done 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 time per day to reduce pain and swelling. And keep icing it on a daily basis until the injured area is no longer inflamed or/and painful to touch.
In cases of severe pain, you might consider taking Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ( NSAIDs), like aspirin or ibuprofen, to soothe the pain and speed up recovery. Nonetheless, be careful not to overdo it. Research shows that these over-the-counter pills have side effects, like ulcers.
Therefore, only take them for a short period of time, preferably under the guidance of a certified physician.
The typical recovery time depends, mostly, on how severe you were injured. But as a general guideline, you can recover from a shin splint within two to four weeks, give or take.
During the downtime, you might choose to 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 and prevent becoming a couch potato.
If the pain does persists, and symptoms fail to improve (in spite of taking the right RICE measures) then you might seek immediate medical assessment to check for any other, more serious, causes for your stubborn shin pain.
Scoring a Running Comeback
As a rule of thumb, you need to re-start your running engines slow.
During the first few weeks of your running comeback, steer clear of any 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 it comes to dealing with a running injury is “prevention is better than cure”. Hence, prevention should always be your first objective. You should be proactive about it and do everything you can do to lay the foundation for an injury-free running experience.
The good news here is that shin splints are totally preventable. Here are some of the measures you’ll have to take to avoid shin splints in the near and distant future:
1. Start Slow
The first rule when it comes to preventing 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 a host of 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 of 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’re looking 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.
For more beginner runner guidelines, check these posts:
2. Strength Train
When your lower leg muscles, especially your tibial muscles, are overworked, they start moving beyond their natural range of motion, pulling on the tibia bone, thus, resulting in pain along the lower leg.
In other words, the shins pick up the slack for weak surrounding muscles.
For that reason, strengthening the muscles of your lower leg may help prevent this common injury by making your lower leg muscles stronger, increasing their ability to handle impact.
As a result, be sure to 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 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.
Although the science is still hazy on the effectiveness of stretching for 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 alphabets with your toes.
The Calf Stretch
3. Fix Your Form
Improper running form is often blamed for shin splints, as previously stated.
Bad form can disrupt your kinetic chain, triggering biomechanical dysfunctions that may cause symptoms to recur even if your resume running slowly and gradually.
The good news is proper form is not quantum physics. In fact, it can be easily learned.
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 the shin splints, then consider slightly shortening your normal stride—roughly 10 percent.
Research has revealed that subjects who shorten their stride by 10 percent were able to reduce 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, experience reduced impact.
So, invest at least a couple of weeks purposely running with a relatively short stride.
Last up, 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.
4. Wear The Right Shoes
Training in ill-fitting or worn-out shoes are a leading cause of injury.
A good running shoe can help reduce the running-related high impact stresses whereas a worn-out or ill-fitting pair can’t.
As a result, opt for stable, supportive footwear that suits your individual needs.
Rather than buying your shoes online or at a sporting goods store, head to a running specialty store.
The expert staff there will assess your unique biomechanical and gait type, then 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 every week.
5. 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 muscles damage and may speed up recovery following a hard workout.
For these reasons, compression gear, especially compression socks, might be effective in treating and preventing shin pain.
Of course, no conclusive research has proved that compression socks are effective at preventing shin splints.
But I believe it’s something worth considering—especially if you don’t mind investing in a $50 to $70 per pair.
Just get the right compression socks. Make sure they fit well, giving your calves a good tight squeeze but also promoting blood flow to the region and not feeling too constrictive.
Plus, make sure they are made with technical, high-performance fabrics that’s breathable and looks good.
6.Foam Roll or Massage
Foam rolling is one the simplest, yet effective ways of dealing with shin pain (and other overuse injuries), according to many experts.
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—all of 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 30 to 60 seconds, then take breaks of the equal time period. Repeat the process four to five times, at least five times per week.
Check out this YouTube tutorial:
7. Try Acupuncture
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 early stages of onset.
In fact, the researchers found that acupuncture treatment—twice weekly for a duration of three weeks—is more effective at treating shin splints than physiotherapy and the use of anti-inflammatories when treating this condition.
8. Rest and Recovery
As I have stated, the leading cause of shin splints—and most overuse running injuries for that matter—is overuse.
Skipping on recovery time 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.
In fact, just because you’re dealing with shin splints do not mean that your exercise routine has to come to a sudden halt.
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 both during and after training.
9. Seek out Professional Help
In case the above measures proved futile in your quest to get rid of shin splints, then you SHOULD seek the help of a professional health provider.
As previously stated, biomechanics can contribute to shin splints, whether you’ve severe muscle imbalances, tend to overstride, or have poor posture.
These are not the kind of 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 all possible to single out what might be contributing 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 and increase the range of motion as well as provide support for the muscles of the lower leg.
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If you get anything from today’s article is that you should never let shin splints sideline you from reaching your running goals.
Even if you have a bad history of the condition, you are not hopeless.
As long as you are always proactive about protecting yourself from overuse injuries, you’re in the right place.
Yes, as severe and painful as shin splints might be, you can get rid of them provided you take the right precautions and are patient enough.