Shin splints, especially for new runners, are one of the most common injuries. I’ve personally struggled with shin splints for my entire running career and recently they’ve been flaring up again. To make sure my shin-splints heal quickly and don’t disrupt my marathon training, I have been taking extra precautions.
What are Shin Splints?
The term “shin splints” describes the awful pain on the inner edge of the shinbone (tibia), a condition that occurs when the legs are overworked or overstretched. This pain is caused by repeated pounding and stress on the lower leg which is why runners get affected so easily. It makes me cringe thinking about how many times during a run your foot is just pounding against the ground AHH!
This excessive stress causes the muscles to swell putting extra pressure against the shinbone which leads to pain and inflammation in the shin area aka “shin splints”.
The most common symptoms of shin splints include pain and tenderness on the inner side of the shins, swelling, small bumps along the shin bones and redness. Shin splint pain is usually VERY sharp during exercise and then dull and more throbbing post exercise. For me the pain while running can be so extreme I just have to stop and walk.. It is important to be able to recognise the early symptoms so that appropriate action can be taken to prevent serious injury and ensure a quick return to normal activity.
What causes Shin Splints?
Most runners who develop shin splints will describe an exercise history that includes sudden increases in the intensity or duration of impact activities, often with a lack of adequate recovery between workouts. There are a variety of factors that can lead to shin splints. The most common cause is repeated stress to the muscles or bones of the lower leg.
Muscle trauma (stress compartment syndrome) is often related to overtraining or excessive running on hard surfaces. Repeated use causes the muscles to swell and puts pressure on the fascia covering the muscles in the lower leg, resulting in pressure and pain.
Bone trauma to the lower leg can lead to stress fractures. Constant pounding of the leg bones can cause microscopic cracks and fractures of the tibia and fibula (lower leg bones). Rest is needed to repair these cracks, but without adequate recovery, these cracks continue to grow and fracture.
The main cause is usually running but extra stress can be placed on the shin for the following reasons:
- Over pronation of foot while running- basically rolling your food inward putting extra pressure on the shin area
- Running in old, worn out shoes that don’t provide enough support
- Sudden increases in duration/ intensity of runs
Not cross training- having weak calves and hips won’t help support the shin area
- Not properly stretching before and after runs- especially in the calf area- having tight calves may put extra stress on your shins and make the pain worse
- Running or jumping on hard surfaces
- Muscle imbalance between the front and back leg
- Running on an inclined or sloping surface
Treatment & Prevention of shin splints:
1. Quality shoes + Inserts + A gait analysis
One of the main reasons people get shin splints is running in old, worn down shoes that are not offering enough support. I highly recommend going into your local running store and doing something called a gait analysis. A professional will watch you run on a treadmill and look for errors in your running form that can be corrected with the right type of shoe. Additional support can be created using inserts, ideally inserts customized for your foot.
Read also: Best orthotic insoles for foot pain
Read also: Best running shoes for women in UK
2. Stretch + roll
You want to take as much pressure away from your shins as possible to help them heal. You should always stretch before and after a run and when dealing with shin splints be sure to spend some quality time stretching out your calves. Using a foam roller or a stick can really help get deep into the muscle to relieve pressure and tension.
Read also: Best foam rollers in UK
It’s so important to ice your shins for 15-20 minutes after a run and ideally to ice a few times a day until your shin pain decreases. Icing will help decrease the inflammation in the shin and lead to much less pain and swelling.
Read also: Ice or Heat For Injury?
4. Strengthen your shins
It seems strange to work on strengthening your shins but I promise it will help so much for both recovery and prevention. If any of these exercises make your pain worse DO NOT continue.
- Heel drop- For this stand your toes on the edge of a step and lower and lift your heels. Basically this is a toe raise but with a larger range of motion since you’re up on the step. Repeat this 15-20 times.
- Toe Point- Sit down ideally in a chair or on the couch and simply point and flex your toes 15-20 times for each foot. You should really feel this target your shin area.
- Toe raises- Now for these you can do these 3 different ways. With your toes pointed in (in pictures below), toes pointed out or with your toes parallel. Simply raise up onto your toes then back down 15-20 times. Play around with the 3 different variations to see what benefits you the most.
Icing, calf and foot massage, plus foam rolling, are all simple ways to prevent future pain and swelling. These are also beneficial for more than just shin pain – they treat pain in the legs. As scar tissue forms to heal muscle injuries (broken down muscle fibres resulting from exercise), the adhesions between the tissues can become rigid and firmly attached if the muscles do not move.
Safely moving the muscles helps to break down the adhesions. Some massage therapists and physiotherapists recommend massaging the calves first.
Read also: Best calf massagers in UK
Shin Pain That is not Shin Splints
Shin splints are the most common cause for shin discomfort. However, other causes such as injury, bone bruise or stress fracture can also cause shin pain.
Sometimes, pain can be felt in the shin. However, it could also be coming from somewhere else. This is also known as radicular pain. It refers to a type pain that radiates from the back and hip into your legs via your spine.
A stress fracture, which is an incomplete crack in the bone, could cause pain in the lower leg. This is far more serious than shin-splints. A bone scan is the best way to diagnose a stress fracture.
In most cases, the symptoms of shin splints are fairly easy to resolve. Resting the legs for a few days is a very important part of recovery. Many people find that alternating between ice packs and heat packs several times a day helps to relieve pain and swelling. A person can also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs to ease persistent symptoms. As the legs begin to feel better, a person may consider investing in more comfortable, supportive footwear and gradually returning to a regular level of exercise.
My name is Maria. I am a fitness instructor by morning/evening, & an avid reader & fitness coach when I can fit it in. I write about being a new mom, a fitness instructor, a wife, and a lover of life!