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Preventing and Treating Shin Splints

Preventing and Treating Shin Splints

Shin splints, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, refers to pain in the front of the lower leg (shin) that can be caused by exercising. Runners and dancers commonly complain of shin splints, and they can be caused by putting too much stress on the legs through:

  • Running without good technique
  • Jumping on hard surfaces
  • Suddenly starting a new exercise routine without building up a tolerance

Shin splints aren’t serious but they can be uncomfortable and cause exercise and training to become unpleasant. In this article, we’ll cover what causes shin splints, and how can they be treated, as well as some ways to prevent them.

Shin Splints Diagram

We cover other common sports injuries and ailments in our blog:

How to Prevent Shin Splints

Preventing shin splints is a much easier way to combat them than treatment. If you’re an athlete looking for how to prevent shin splints when running you’re doing the best thing to protect yourself.

Awareness of what to do to prevent shin splints means that you’ll naturally incorporate good practices into your training and avoid pain, discomfort, and setbacks associated with shin splints. Here’s how to prevent shin splints in running and other sports.

1. Gradually increase exercise intensity and rest often

Woman Running

Shin splints are a type of overuse injury. One of the most common reasons that people develop shin splints is because they are forcing their legs to exercise more than they can handle too quickly. If you are a new runner and have shin splints it may be because you didn’t gradually build up your running routine.

Prevent shin splints by starting slow, and gradually building up your running distance over time. Pay attention to how your lower legs feel during training. Don’t attempt to ‘run through’ any pain, this is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. If your legs begin to feel uncomfortable stop for a rest.

2. Choose the right footwear and check your form

Footwear

Running in a way that puts undue stress on the shins, or wearing footwear that doesn’t provide enough support can change how the impact is absorbed by the body and lead to shin splints.

Your running shoes should give sufficient arch support and cushion the sole to help your foot land properly and absorb shock. Most sports shop assistants will be able to recommend a good pair of running shoes to prevent shin splints running and some can even examine your gait, the shape of your feet, and the wear on your current shoes to determine the best solution for you.

Other than investing in a new pair of running shoes you could opt for a pair of arch supports that can be inserted into your shoes to give you the necessary comfort.

Running Form

Running form is also important to reduce the risk of shin splints. Mid-foot running focuses on landing the feet in the optimal way to protect the feet and legs. Heel striking or toe running can result in shin splints and other ailments.

Practice drills of mid-foot running to help get your technique right. Your trainer or physiotherapist may be able to observe your running technique and make recommendations, or you could have someone film you running and examine it yourself.

It’s also important to warm up to prevent shin splints and stretch after a session. Giving your calves a massage following a workout can help the muscles to recover, or you could have a professional sports massage.

3. Exercise on softer ground

Runner on Grass

Shin splints are caused by the impact of your feet on the ground and this impact is increased when you run on hard surfaces like concrete. Reduce the chance of shin splints by opting for softer running surfaces like grass or dirt tracks. Even practising running on a shock-absorbing treadmill in the gym is a good way to build up your running tolerance while avoiding hard ground.

4. Add strength training activities

Shin splints are sometimes caused by weak anterior tibialis muscles which are located at the front side of the lower leg. Consider resistance exercises and stretches to prevent shin splints when running.

Building up the muscles throughout the whole of your legs will make it easier for your body to propel and balance you when running and take pressure off your shins. Keep reading to find some good strength exercises to combat shin splints.

Start off your session with calf stretches that help you limber up the high-risk area. Ending your session with stretches is equally important.

Exercises to Prevent Shin Splints

Building up your calf muscles can help to strengthen the area where shin splints can occur. But these aren’t just exercises to help prevent shin splints, they can also soothe the area when you are suffering from shin splints and help your body recover.

Here are some popular stretching exercises to prevent shin splints:

  • Seated calf stretch with a resistance band
  • Toe walking and heel walking
  • Toe raises to prevent shin splints
  • Standing dorsiflexion stretch
  • Straight and bent-knee calf wall stretches

How to Treat Shin Splints

If you experience shin splints there are some things you can do to reduce the pain and discomfort you experience and help your body recover. Most of the time you will only need to know how to treat shin splints at home as professional advice isn’t usually required.

However, if you experience a lot of pain or if your symptoms don’t start to get better after a week, make an appointment with your GP. They will be able to advise you on the best way to treat shin splints or determine that something else is the cause of your symptoms.

1. Use an Ice Pack

Icing the affected area can soothe pain and reduce any swelling or inflammation, something that contributes to pain, stiffness, and discomfort. Use an ice pack for up to 20 minutes every two or three hours for the first few days.

Make sure you have an instant ice pack in your first aid kit if you’re a coach or trainer. It doesn’t require actual ice and only needs to be shaken and squeezed to activate its cooling effect.

Our Sterfreeze Instant Ice Pack isn’t only good for shin splints, it can be used to soothe other common injuries like ankle sprains, groin strains, pulled muscles, and head injuries.

2. Take Over the Counter Painkillers

Taking Over the Counter Painkillers

Use OTC medicine to help ease the pain of your shin splints such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Be sure you check the packaging to confirm it is safe for you to take the medicine or consult your doctor for a recommendation.

3. Gentle Exercise

We often hear people ask how to treat shin splints while running. Treating shin splints without stopping running is possible, but it’s much more beneficial to let your body rest and recover before returning to activities.

Treating shin splints physical therapy is beneficial, but it’s important to start with very light, gentle exercise to gradually strengthen the area and help your body get used to the activity again. Many runners find swimming and yoga help when recovering from shin splints.

Including some daily stretches to treat shin splints will help move progress along. Refer to the recommended stretches above in this article or consult a physiotherapist for a routine that suits you.

Are you prepared for a first aid emergency?

Shin splints aren’t usually harmful and although uncomfortable, won’t affect your game long-term. But there’s always a chance of some real damage being done when it comes to sports. The best way to make sure you’re always ready for an emergency is with the right supplies and the proper know-how.

We engineered our sports first aid kit on a foundation of real feedback from real athletes, sports players, coaches, sports rehab professionals and national governing bodies so that you have everything you need for the most common sports injuries.

Read our blog post Essential Parts of Any Sports First Aid Kit to find out more about its contents.

Most national governing bodies of sports require or at least strongly recommend that one person per club or team is qualified in giving basic first aid. Check out our guide on first aid courses for sports to find out the requirements in your field.

But attending a one-time first aid course isn’t often enough, and being prepared to help an injured athlete get back to their sport relies on continued professional development and up to date knowledge of sports rehabilitation. That’s why we invite anyone with an interest or responsibility to help with physical rehab to join our Injury Rehab Network.

Find out about upcoming events in the IRN and have the chance to learn from and network with industry experts in sports rehabilitation.


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