The Ultimate Guide: How to Get Rid of Shin Splints For Good

Introduction

Like most things in life, the best way to solve a problem is by understanding it. Understand how the problem occurred and what issues the problems caused and you will be well on your way to solving the problem.

Furthermore, like most things in life, injuries, including shin splints, don’t have some magical cure and any person or guide that tells you all you need to do is one quick thing and your pain will disappear is often either exaggerating or downright lying.


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It is important to consider that, as with most medical predicaments, there are a number of different causes, symptoms, and cures and each person’s experience with shin splints may be different.

What works for your training partner may not work for you and vice versa, so taking a comprehensive approach to shin splints, and most things in life, will prove to be the most valuable.

So, when reading the rest of this article, take all things with a grain of salt, remember that the body is a complicated thing and when it comes to training, injuries, and recovery, nothing is full proof. But know that the following information is based on the research of many medical professionals on a variety of participants and has worked for many people.

We hope this guide helps you deal with shin splints but know there is no replacement for your personal doctor and their recommendations as each person’s situation is different.

What are Shin Splints?

If you’ve been around the running world for long, it is a good bet either you have had it or someone you know has had it. It is one of the most prevalent running injuries and is common in the back of the pack and front of the pack alike.

If you are unfamiliar with that stinging and lingering pain in your shins, count yourself lucky. But, for those that have, it is referred to in the medical world as medial tibial stress syndrome. To us mortals though, it is pain in your lower leg on your shin.

Essentially, it is an overuse injury caused by too much physical activity before your body can adapt.  This is especially common in new runners or runners who have significantly increased their training load in a short period of time.

Although shin splints are not exclusive to running, they are also a common injury in other more lateral and high-shock sports such as basketball, soccer, and dancers.

Personally, I group shin splints into a wide variety of pains that I call “adaptation pains.” When exercising, you are always breaking down different muscles. This is a good thing to a certain extent, as this break down is what tells your body to build muscle, making you stronger.

But if you break down your muscles too quickly and don’t allow them to recover, it causes injuries like shin splints. Basically, shin splints are caused by your body being unable to adapt to your training load as quickly as your training load increases.

This usually means you need to slow down your training increase so that your body is able to recover.

How do I know if you have shin splints?

Unfortunately, you’ll usually know that you have them through pain. It typically starts as a dull ache on your tibia, or your shin bone. This can be either on the front of the shin bone or on either side and you may feel this pain both during exercise and shortly afterwards.

Along with this pain you may also experience some swelling and you will find that the areas that ache are also very sensitive to the touch, so slamming your shin into that coffee table in your living room like I do at least once a week will hurt exponentially more than usual.

If the pain and the swelling continue to increase or if you developed this pain after a specific trauma such as a fall (or slamming your shin into that coffee table), or if the ache you had during the run does not start to go away after a few hours of rest, you may have something more serious so consider seeing your doctor or another medical specialist.

Are you sure?

Obviously, unless you’re a doctor, even if you have all the symptoms above, it doesn’t necessarily mean you 100% have shin splints. The only way to know for sure is by visiting a doctor.

They may simply do a physical exam or they may ask you to undergo an X-ray, or a variety of other tests to determine if you have shin splints or something more damaging, like a stress fracture. Another possibility is compartment syndrome, which creates a pain similar to shin splints but along with other symptoms as well.

Either way, you should treat any pain you may have with respect, as while you may be able to make a very good guess, it is impossible to know for sure what injury it is you have, why you have it, or how to get it to go away. But a doctor that knows you well will be able to give you the most comprehensive and accurate opinion.

How did I get shin splints?

The pain is caused by the repeated “stress” put on your shins. This can be from jumping repeatedly in basketball, taking a lot of hard, quick steps back and forth in tennis, or running for a long period of time.

 As said earlier, it is an overuse injury meaning that you are putting more stress on your body than it can repair, and over time, the pain arrives and often begins to worsen.

ALSO READ:  What is Plantar Fasciitis?

While anyone can get shin splints if they overuse the tibia bone and tissues surrounding it, there are a few things that put certain athletes more at risk.

1. Training Plan Flaw

The first and foremost risk factor is a flaw in your training plan, namely adding too much mileage too sun, trying to return from an injury too quickly, or not allowing your body to recover after harder efforts like races or workouts.

2. Form Inconsistency

The other main contributor is going to be an inconsistency in your form. Most people think that this may just be a simple fix, being conscious of their form flaw and fixing it mentally, and while that may work for some, most issues in form stem from a muscle weakness, imbalance, or a lack of flexibility that causes your body to go through a motion that your bones aren’t designed for.

Our bodies are adapted to run: yours, mine, even that overweight guy buying his third milkshake of the day at breakfast. Over thousands of years our bodies have shaped themselves to handle the very specific stresses that go through our bones, muscles, and tendons while running.

3. Inadequate Adaptation

You also have to consider that unlike our ancestors, most of us didn’t grow up running since the day we could walk. Furthermore, our ancestors did not run on surfaces like pavement, asphalt, and concrete.

Especially if you are coming in to the sport later in life, even more so if you were not as active while you were younger, it will take time for your body to readjust to running. Hardly any of us come in to the sport with a body perfectly made from running.

4. Strength Imbalance

Even at the highest level of running, with athletes that have been training and competing for years, they have glute weaknesses, muscle imbalances, mobility issues, you name it, and it takes a significant amount of work for every runner to find their specific weaknesses and work on them.

But no matter how perfect your form is, how balanced your muscles are, and how flexible you are, your body is constantly handling different shock forces with each step you take.  Luckily, your body has adapted to handle the majority of these forces.

However, if you have a lack of flexibility, muscle imbalance, or muscle weakness, it will affect your form. And if it affects your form enough, it is likely that some of the shocks that you experience from running aren’t as natural to the body as others.

Overview

If you haven’t allowed your body to adapt to them, these shocks can therefore cause a myriad of injuries, including shin splints.  Even if you are strong, flexible, and your form is perfect, you can still get pains like shin splints if you over train since any form inconsistency can also be exacerbated when your muscles are tired near the end of a run and your form starts to break down.

Basically, anything that sends repeated unusual shocks through your legs could lead to shin splints. Think activities such as running downhill, especially on harder surfaces, running on uneven terrain, and using shoes that don’t have enough support.

Okay, I have Shin Splints, now what do I do?

Depending on the severity of your pain, what training cycle you are in, and how important your next race is, you may want to take a short break from training to allow your body to recover.

The recommended break is usually about two weeks depending on the duration and severity of your pain. In the past, I’ve been able to run through shin splints early in the season, simply by backing off mileage a little bit, switching into newer shoes, varying my surfaces a bit more, or simply taking my runs just a little bit slower to reduce that fatigue factor we talked about earlier.

Also, I’ve chosen to run through them near the end of a racing season knowing I only had to deal with the pain for another week or so before the season ends.  But, in each situation my pain was not yet severe and this also depends highly on how prone you may be to stress fractures.

If you’re like me and are too stubborn to let your body rest when it needs it, or you are taking that rest and want to do as much as possible to speed your recovery process, there are a few at home remedies you can do to reduce the pain.

RICE

Very similar to most injuries, the R.I.C.E. method is very effective here, (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).

Like I said earlier, taking time off of high impact exercise is the most helpful, but you also want to spend tie icing your shins, keeping on a compression sock or sleeve (if you don’t have one, they are a solid investment and if you don’t want to spend money on it, there’s another option I’ll mention in a bit), and elevating your feet above your heart, such as on a chair or a wall.

An excellent remedy I’ve used in the past that puts all these together, is placing ice on your shins, wrapping them in Saran Wrap, and putting them up on a couple pillows on your couch while you’re watching TV or working on your computer. I’ve found it to be a fantastic way to rest, ice, compress, and elevate all while getting some nice recovery time.

Anti-Inflammatories

Other ways to help with the pain are anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen and extra stretching sessions.  Since shin splints are often caused by a lack of mobility, stretching not just the muscles around your shins, but all of your running muscles, including your calves, quads, hamstrings, hips, glutes, core, and back, will help improve your mobility and should lead to reducing your pain when combined with the RICE method.

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Also, some light foam rolling on your calves and shins can also be useful.

My shins hurt a lot but I don’t want to stop working out, do I have other options?

Taking time off doesn’t always mean just sitting around the house watching TV either. If shin splints are the only pain you are dealing with, there are plenty of cross training options as well.

You do want to avoid high impact cross training activities like weight lifting, basketball, soccer, or other similar activities. Excellent cross training ideas for running are swimming, aqua jogging, or cycling.

All three of these activities will still help you train your aerobic engine, one of the biggest pieces in the puzzle of becoming a strong runner, while providing a low impact form of exercise that should help your shin splints heal.

Cross Training

Beyond aiding your aerobic engine, each primary cross training activity has its advantages and disadvantages.

Swimming

Swimming is going to be the best for building general strength but it won’t put your legs through the same motions that running does.

Aqua Jogging

Aqua jogging is the best for replicating the neuromuscular activity that running requires, but both require a pool and often require extra equipment like goggles, an aqua jogging built, and a swimsuit.

Cycling

Cycling

Cycling on the other hand, won’t strengthen your whole body as well as swimming will, and won’t provide the neuromuscular advantage that aqua jogging does, but it does not require a pool and, if you’re like me and love using your exercise to explore new places, will allow you to cover more ground even than running while still strengthening your muscles.

But again, this also requires a bike and (I highly recommend) a helmet.

I encourage you, however, to try them all out and see which you like best and perhaps find a rotation of all three to keep your mind fresh and your body fit while you wait for your shins to heal.

I’m not getting better, what’s wrong?

If you’ve taken time off, gone through all the remedies recommended here and you are still experiencing pain, you may be suffering from something worse than shin splits. Shin splints can also lead to stress fractures and other injuries.

So, if after you’ve taken time off from running, iced, compressed, and elevated your legs for a few weeks and the pain is not getting better, we highly recommend you see a doctor or other medical professional.

I’m all better now, but how do I avoid getting them again?

Assuming you read the section informing you what causes shin splints, the ways to avoid getting them again are quite similar.

1. A Good Plan

First and foremost, avoid any wild training changes such as substantially increasing your mileage or training intensity in a short period of time.  It is always useful to check with a knowledgeable coach in addition to a doctor before making any significant changes to a training plan.

2. Shoes

Additionally, having the right equipment does matter. This doesn’t mean you need to go throw out $200 on the nicest pair of running shoes you can find, but it does mean going to your local running store and/or consulting your orthopedist about what kind of running shoes are right for you.

Also, no matter how nice or durable your running shoes are and no matter how many great races or memories you have in them, all running shoes have their limit and the last thing you want is to be running in “dead” shoes.

Shin splints will become one of many new injuries you will discover. So make sure you switch out your running shoes regularly, most shoes recommend 300-500 miles but be sure to do your research as this depends heavily on the kind of shoe, your body type, and your running form.

It is also always beneficial to check your shoes periodically for cushioning breakdowns. You may also want to invest in special shock-absorbing insoles if you are especially prone to shin splints and other high impact injuries, but we recommend checking with a doctor about which insoles are correct for you

3. Little Things that Help Big

In addition to the right equipment, it is important to follow general good practices when it comes to working out.

Little things like taking time for a proper warm up, taking time to cool down after, and making sure you are taking care of yourself by stretching, foam rolling, hydrating properly, and having quality nutrition can all help your body handle your training load, reducing your risk for injury.

4. Form and Strength

Furthermore, like this article said earlier, having good form, which nearly always derive from having proper strength and mobility will help enormously.  Although running is excellent exercise, training at a high load often requires much more than just running.

This is why you see almost every competitive runner supplementing their running with activities like strength training, stretching, and other cross training activities. Strength training especially can have a big impact on reducing your risk on injury.


 The #1 Best Insoles for Foot Pain

If you have plantar fasciitis, high arches, flat feet, or other foot support issues, but would rather not purchase a new pair of shoes – add the Tread Labs Stride Insole to your existing shoes. The Stride Insole is biomechanically designed to support your arch and cure/prevent plantar fasciitis. Simply remove the factory insole from your favorite shoes and replace it with the Stride. The Stride comes in four different arch heights for each foot size, offers a lifetime guaranteed arch support and has a removable top cover. Take the Tread Labs Fit Quiz now and get THE BEST possible support for your feet.

#1 Best Support - Tread Labs Stride Insole

  • THE BEST support to prevent/cure Plantar Fasciitis.
  • Lifetime Guaranteed Arch Support.
  • Replaceable Top-Cover
  • Free shipping both ways.

Read Why Stride Insoles are the Best


Not only does this improve your strength and endurance for running faster and longer, strength training, especially abdominal, hip, glute, and back exercises also help to hold your body in a proper position while running to normalize the forces going through your body to what it is built to handle.

That was a lot of words, can you give me a short summary?

Shin splints is what most runners call medial tibial stress syndrome, which is an injury that causes pain in the lower leg near the shin. It is caused by your body not being able to adapt to an increase or change in training as quickly as it needs to.

ALSO READ:  Bunions (Hallux Valgus): Treatment & Symptoms

The best way to avoid this is by avoiding quick increases in training, making sure you have the proper shoes, and taking care of your body outside of running through strength training, stretching, hydration, and nutrition.

If you find that you have shin splints, consider taking some time off, about two weeks, to allow your body to recover. If the pain does not go away after this time, you may want to see a doctor to avoid inflicting further damage to your body.

Don’t worry though, shin splints are a common injury that many runners and other various athletes suffer from and if you make smart training choices and take care of your body, you should be back to doing what you love in no time.

2017-07-27T16:18:58+00:00

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