Shin splints is one of the most common running injuries and is an important reminder to exercise in a truly healthy way rather than beginning too fast, expecting too much of your body, and not giving yourself enough time to recover. Whether you are a runner for pleasure or competition or partake in any form of sport in general – apart from possibly bowling, then shin splints is something that you will probably have experienced at some point in your training lifetime. Shin splints range from mild discomfort in your lower leg to experiencing extreme pain with every step you take. Wherever you fall on this scale, shin splints are inconvenient, irritating and in some cases, can seriously affect your training.
What Causes Shin Splints: The Main Triggers
The most common trigger for shin splintering is running. But there are several ways in which they can be caused:
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- Running with bad form (fallen arches, heavy footing, or poor posture)
- Limited recovery time between training sessions
- Training on hard surfaces (pavements or track for example)
- Running on uneven terrain (farmer fields, woodland areas)
- Running on an incline/ decline
- Not warming up properly/ pushing your body too hard at the beginning of a workout
- Wearing shoes that aren’t suitable for running, are new or too worn out
For more detail on the causes of shin splints, I’ve written a detailed guide about the shin splint causes.
Recovering and Preventing Shin Splints
Although shin splints is a common injury, this does not mean that it can’t be prevented in a lot of cases. Even if you are unfortunate enough to suffer from them, there are still exercises and other methods of reducing the pain and allowing your body to recover from the injury.
Preventing Shin Splints
Although shin splints can occur for many different reasons, the common causes are preventable if you are mindful of your running, your ability and your environment.
The biggest cause of shin splints is pushing your body beyond its limits, therefore the first and most important tip for preventing shin splints is to stick to a training plan that has been tailored to you and your ability. If you are unsure of this then book yourself a couple of sessions with a personal trainer, they will be able to monitor you and support you in building a training plan that is suited to your ability, fitness as well as pushing you to reach your goals.
As stated above, another common trigger of shin splints is running on hard surfaces or uneven surfaces. If you aren’t part of a gym, this can be difficult to avoid, therefore try to mix up your workouts by including cycling, rowing and swimming into your routines, this will give you more workout choices as well as giving your legs time to recover between running sessions.
Incorrect Form and Posture
Even if you run on the perfect surface and stick to a training plan, shin splints will still be prevalent and possibly more serious due to an incorrect running posture. Which is why you need to do your research and practice running with a correct posture at all times; even when you’re hitting the end of your workout and putting one foot in front of the other seems like an impossible task, keep that form perfect or you risk a serious injury.
The easiest way to ensure your posture is correct is to work from your head to toes, ensuring each part of your body is in the correct position. You should be looking ahead, with a straight line from your head to your heels, leaning slightly forward and your arms swinging forwards and backwards in time to your steps. Attempt to ensure your feet land beneath you, with the centre of your foot striking the ground first. For a more detailed look at correct running posture, take a look at From the Couch to Half Marathon: The Ultimate Guide post I uploaded recently.
Minimalism is all the rage at the moment, with many runners either running barefoot or buying shoes which create the same effect as barefoot running. However, this may not be the best for preventing shin splints from forming; a lack of arch and ankle support mean overpronating and rolling of the foot when striking the ground can put additional pressure on the ligaments in the shin, causing swelling and tearing of the muscles.
When looking to purchase a pair of running shoes, look for motion control and stability in the shoe as well as the way in which they hold your foot, this is because ill-fitting shoes can cause improper form in runners as you try to run comfortably in the shoe. Always remember to replace your shoes every 300 miles, or every year if you don’t run as much; running in worn-out shoes is a very common cause of shin splints. When buying new shoes, always remember to go into a specialist running store and avoid buying shoes online, have the shop assistant watch you stand, walk and run and make recommendations based on your unique body mechanics.
If you’re noticing that your heel strikes the ground first when running, or you are overpronating, you may want to try an orthotic. A plastic orthotic replacing the foam liner can give you additional arch support, which will improve your form and help prevent the development of shin splints as well as support recovery for those who have already been injured. Orthotics can also help treat and prevent other overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, iliotibial band and runner’s knee. Your local running store should sell orthotics, however if you need additional support, then visit your doctor and ask for a referral to a podiatrist who can recommend the best orthotic or have one specifically developed for your feet.
How to Get Rid of Shin Splints (The Recovery)
As shin splints is such a common injury, there has been a lot of research into the most effective methods in supporting recovery. What’s important to remember is that there is no one answer that will suit everyone, and recovery is never a quick process. Therefore if you have shin splints, try not to rush the process as you will be more likely to cause yourself a more serious injury.
Below I have compiled a list of the recommended recovery options for anyone recovering. Please note that you should seek medical advice and speak to a specialist podiatrist or physical therapist who both specialize in running injuries.
When injured, try to reduce the amount of training that you are doing on a daily and weekly basis. The average time for recovery from shin splints is between 2 and 6 weeks. A doctor will recommend stopping completely for a short while (possibly a week) before beginning at a much lower intensity. It is also important to take lots of rests during training and lots of recovery days. Most doctors recommend that you only increase your intensity by 10% each session whilst you are in recovery.
Stretching and Strength Training
Choosing the right type of stretching during your rehabilitation program will have an enormous effect on the speed of your recovery, whilst choosing the wrong type could lead to further injury and a very slow recovery.
These stretches should also be carried out after recovery and before training in order to prevent further injury. Here are several stretches that are good at supporting your recovery and as preventative measures for further injuries:
- Wall Shin Raises
- Heel Step-Downs
- Calf Stretches
- Shin Resistance Exercises
Alongside stretching, strength training is important to build up muscles used to maintain a good running technique. One of the key components to avoiding a recurrent injury is to increase the strength of your core. A strong core reduces the pressure the shins must absorb when the foot hits the ground during training through increasing the control over the legs through the training process.
Focusing on strength training will also give the shins the space to recover whilst you continue training. Once you are nearing the end of your recovery, another way to reduce the chance of another injury is to incorporate more strength training into your workouts that are focused on your leg muscles.
Here are a selection of exercises that will focus on building your core and your calf muscles:
- Balance Plank
- Single Leg Glute Bridge
- Side Plank Leg Lift
- Bicycle Crunches
- Double Leg Calf Raise
- Calf Building Sports (for example step classes or swimming)
- Seated Calf Raise
Massage therapy and foam rolling
Foam rolling and massage therapy are two effective methods of relieving inflammation surrounding the tibia bone.
Foam rollers are incredibly effective at working out the knots or trigger points in your muscles and are an inexpensive and easy to use method for relieving muscular immobility and pain. Foam rollers work by breaking down the fibrous tissue and increasing circulation.
It is imperative that you do not use foam rollers to relieve shin splints if these have been caused by a stress fracture. This could make the pain much worse. It is also very important to know how to use foam rollers effectively to ensure further injury isn’t sustained.
When foam rolling, try to avoid doing the following:
- Rolling directly where I pain is. A painful area may be the result of tension imbalances elsewhere in the body. Also rolling directly on an inflamed area can increase the inflammation and inhibit healing.
- Rolling too quickly. Your movements on the foam roller should be slow and consistent. Too fast and your muscles won’t have time to adapt to and manage the compression which means you will not eliminate the adhesions.
- Spending too much time on the same area. Try to work on knots and other areas of pain, however concentrating too much time on the area can damage the tissues or nerves, this is particularly true when you place your entire weight on the roller.
- Using a bad posture. Using a foam roller requires you to hold your body in various positions to accurately work on the area required. This requires strength and focus, I recommend if you are new to using a foam roller to work with an experienced personal trainer or using videos on the internet to understand the proper form and then filming yourself to compare your form to that of the video.
Switch to soft Running surfaces
Running on hard surfaces is a common cause of shin splints, and therefore if you are used to running on concrete pavements then try running on a treadmill or on softer surfaces such as grass or AstroTurf. This will release the pressure on your shins as the ground will absorb more of the shock as you run.
Whenever running is part of your training, it is important to focus on training muscles which develop your running technique.
By training your arms as well as your core, it enables you to make more controlled movements, and therefore means there is less of an impact on your shins. Thus, reducing the chance of repeat injury. Training these muscles whether injured or not will develop your running technique; however, when you are in recovery, it can be a good time to put additional focus on training these muscles. This will mean you can continue training whilst also letting your shins have time to recover.
The Final Word
Unfortunately, shin splints can develop for a myriad of reasons, from improper form and ill-fitting shoes, to scar tissue and weak muscles. Although it can’t always be preventable, it doesn’t have to be entirely debilitating. Always be mindful of your body when you’re running and if you start to experience any discomfort or mild pain slow down and visit a doctor. Try the above tips to prevent and recover from shin splints, alongside your doctor’s recommendations. If your pain is bad enough then over the counter painkillers alongside icing the shins to reduce swelling may help to reduce the pain whilst you heal, this won’t help the underlying causes though.
Make sure to check out our complete Shin Splint Treatment Guide.