The shin splint is a nasty and above all annoying leg injury, which means that you sometimes have to rest for weeks or even months. It starts with a creeping pain that is often ignored or not recognized at first. Especially novice runners who (unconsciously) exercise too intensively can be bothered by this at the beginning. In this blog we briefly explain what shin splints are, how they arise and more importantly: how you can prevent shin splints.
They can occur on the medial (inside) of the shin or on the lateral (outside) of your shin. Medial shin splints can be caused by excessive pronation or flat feet, pounding from running, or sports like tennis, volleyball, basketball, and other weight-bearing activities, particularly where you stop and start frequently. If you have medial shin splints and flat feet (excessive pronation), an orthotic device or over-the-counter arch support like Powerfeet or Spenco can sometimes be helpful for preventing shin splints. Make sure it’s a full-length insert.
Experts also suggest that you use compression gear (such as compression bandages or compression socks) to reduce swelling and consider taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Speak to your healthcare provider about taking medications to relieve pain or reduce swelling.
Thankfully, shin splints can often be treated effectively, and, with proper progression of exercise program, prevented if seen before beginning an exercise program. Here are some simple steps that you can take on your own.
Unfortunately there are no proven methods available to definitively prevent shin splints. There are several strategies, however, that may help in preventing shin splints. These strategies include wearing appropriate fitness shoes, warming up before engaging in recreational activities, gradually increasing activity so the body can adapt, discontinuing the activity if you start experiencing pain in the shins, keeping your body weight in check, and seeking the attention of a Physical Therapist before pain arises in order to assess your running or sport biomechanics.
The most common symptom is pain in the tibia during running or when you push on the bone. While this is uncomfortable, it’s not a season-ending injury if you address it promptly. If you ignore the issue, however, shin splints have the potential to develop into a tibial stress fracture, which could leave you on the bench for months. By understanding how to both treat and prevent shin splints from materializing in the first place, you’re more likely to head off major problems down the road.
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), more commonly known as shin splints, refers to the pain one may experience along the inside of the shinbone. This is caused by the inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissues that surround your tibia. Typically, this discomfort happens after a sudden change in your activity and can even occur if you have abnormalities in the arches in your feet. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can prevent this unsettling sensation.
Once you’ve successfully treated your shin splints, it’s important to prevent them from reoccurring. Here are some ways to prevent shin splints or reduce your risk for shin splints. If your pain persists, see your doctor about the possibility of a stress fracture.
Tips to Preventing Shin Splints
Minimalist type shoes improve the strength of the feet over time by allowing the feet to bear more of the impact force that is experienced during physical activity. In addition, they promote an increased cadence (step frequency), which subsequently decreases the strain on your lower extremities. There is also reliable evidence available on prevention of shin splints by using shock-absorbing insoles within your shoes, however, more quality research is certainly required before this advice becomes universal. Your Physical Therapist can assess your running and walking pattern, as well as assess your foot and lower extremity alignment and biomechanics to help you determine the best footwear.
Taking adequate time for the feet to adjust to new shoes and gradually increasing the level of physical activity, along with replacing your shoes regularly in order to maximize their function will also help to prevent injury.
Taking ample time to properly warm up before engaging in physical activity can also reduce the occurrence of injuries. A warm up that includes a short activity to get the heart rate up followed by dynamic stretching is best. Dynamic stretches are stretches that involve quick movements of the limbs and body and, for best results, should simulate the activity you are about to engage in. When athletes perform dynamic warm-ups, they typically demonstrate enhanced flexibility and improved performance.
Runners, for example, may do dynamic stretching by swinging their legs back and forth to simulate running or do several jumps on the spot. These quick stretches stimulate the nervous system and increase the range of motion in the muscles and joints.
If you start experiencing pain in your shins during physical activity it is important to discontinue the activity and allow the muscles in the legs adequate time to rest and recover. Simple icing can be very effective in this early stage of pain. Continuing to exercise when pain is felt in the shins can cause overexertion, which may lead to chronic shin splints, or a compartment syndrome or stress fracture developing.
Exercise On Softer Surfaces When Possible
Exercising on hard surfaces, such as concrete (eg, sidewalks), increases the amount of force that your bones and muscles have to absorb. This causes muscle fatigue and overuse, and ultimately, shin splints.
Choosing more “pliant” or soft surfaces (eg, sprung wood floors, grass, dirt, sand, synthetic tracks and fields) will prevent your bones, muscles, tendons, and joints from having to absorb so much shock.
Gradually Increase Mileage
Shin splints are considered an overuse injury because they usually occur when runners (especially for those who are new to running) increase their mileage or intensity too quickly and do not allow for recovery time.
The important thing is not to run through the pain. Listen to your body and cut back on running when you begin to feel pain. Medical experts suggest that you should not return to running until you have been pain-free for two weeks.
Consider Switching Shoes Or Adding Orthotics
You should also take your running or walking mechanics into consideration. In particular, research has linked over pronation to shin splints. This is likely a result of the considerable torque that is put on the lower leg when the foot strikes the ground and then excessively rolls inward. Shoes with built-in stability or orthotics may help reduce this type of unwanted motion. While the research regarding treatment is somewhat scant, there is evidence to show that insoles or orthotics can help prevent shin splints by reducing that inwards rolling motion.
Change Out Your Footwear
Runners are some of the most common sufferers of shin splints; this is because there is a considerable amount of impact and force being placed on your lower extremities during this activity. Studies Have shown that there is a link between over-pronation to this uncomfortable condition. With that being said, when you run for long distances, it is essential that your shoes provide you with proper support. While that may mean throwing out your favorite pair of running shoes, your shins will thank you.
This is especially important if you have flat feet. In this case, you may benefit from using orthotics for additional support. Shoe inserts can help to keep your foot and ankle in proper alignment while you run, reducing strain on the lower half of your leg and minimizing your chances for experiencing shin splints.
Wear Compression Socks
Stox compression socks keep the calf muscles tight against the tibia, making them shake less back and forth while running. However, Stox Energy’s Running Socks go a step further than “normal” running socks. These special running socks ensure that your leg muscles have optimal blood circulation while running. They also have a shock-absorbing effect, which drastically reduces muscle damage to the legs. Thanks to the compression, the leg muscles get enough oxygen and waste and moisture are quickly removed.
Stretch Your Achilles Tendons And Calf Muscles
Tightness around your Achilles tendons and calf muscles can contribute to shin splints. Spend time stretching every day or every other day depending on the tightness of the muscles.
Inadequate stretching can lead to many injuries but can also be directly related to your shin problems. Spend a good amount of time stretching with various static and dynamic stretches.
Add Shin Exercises to Your Warmup and Cool Down
Use your resistance bands to strengthen your shin, calf, and hip muscles to help prevent shin splints
TheraBand Seated Stretch
- Sit on the ground with your legs straight in front of you
- Wrap the resistance band around the middle of one foot
- Create tension by holding one end of the band in each hand
- Pull your foot gently toward your shin for a nice stretch, then relax
- Push your foot down as if you were pointing your toes, then relax
- Be sure to only move your ankle during this exercise
- Repeat a few times, then switch to your opposite leg
TheraBand Ankle Calf Raise Exercise
- Stand with the balls of your feet on the middle of your band
- Hold one end of the band in each hand, keeping your arms by your side. This should create light tension
- Slowly roll up onto your toes so your heels are off the ground
- Hold this position, then relax
TheraBand Hip Abduction Exercise
- Tie the ends of the band to a stable object near the floor
- Step into the loop so the band wraps around the ankle that is further from the stationary object
- Kick the exercising leg outward, hold, then relax
- Keep your back and knees straight during this exercise
Strengthen Your Foot And The Arch Of Your Foot
The arch of your foot forms by the time you are 7 to 8 years old. Injury, age, and other health conditions can alter the structure of the arch; lack of physical activity will create weakness in the muscles of the foot, lower leg, thigh, and trunk. These changes can affect your lower leg and lead to shin splints.
Strengthening your foot can be a good place to start. For example, using your toes to pull a towel on the floor closer to your foot while sitting can help strengthen the arch muscles. This may help the arch work more effectively to reduce or prevent shin splint pain. A physical therapist can teach you the best exercises for your feet.
Foot orthotics (ie, arch supports) can be used to assist your foot to work better. If your arch is low orthotics can give support to them. Less frequently, high arches can be an issue and foot orthotics can allow more shock absorption, which will decrease stress.
Take Time to Rest
When you’re first starting out, try to avoid running two days in a row. A rest day will limit the pounding on your muscles, joints, and bones and give your body a chance to recover. Even if you’re an experienced runner, taking at least one or two days off from running each week reduces your risk of shin splints and other overuse injuries.
Get the Right Running Shoes
Wearing the wrong shoes can also lead to shin splints, so check your shoes to see if you might need more stability or cushion.1 Get advice from an expert at a running specialty store to make sure you’re wearing the right running shoes. Running experts can examine your gait, the structure of your feet, and the wear on your current running shoes to find the best fit.
Also, replace your running shoes every 350 to 500 miles. Running in shoes that have lost their cushioning is one of the most common causes of shin splints. You can also try inserting over-the-counter shoe inserts so that your calves don’t have to stretch as far.
Develop More Lower Leg Strength
Additionally, studies demonstrate that runners with bigger and stronger calf muscles have a lower risk of developing tibial stress fractures. Since tibial stress fractures can be the result of shin splints that haven’t been addressed, it makes sense that strengthening your calves may also help runners and walkers avoid medial tibial stress syndrome.
Consider working the following strength exercises into your exercise routine to help strengthen those calves and the surrounding muscles in order to prevent shin splints:
Standing with your feet slightly apart, raise up onto your toes, pause for 2 seconds, and lower back down. Complete two sets of 15 repetitions.
Standing on your tiptoes, walk forward 15 yards. Complete two sets of 15 yards.
Lie down with your legs straight out in front of your body and your toes pointed toward the sky. In a pumping motion, point your toes back towards your body and then back to the original position. Complete two sets of 20 repetitions.
Standing on a stair or elevated platform, put your weight on your right foot while lowering your right heel past 90 degrees. Slowly raise back up and repeat before switching sides. Complete two sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
Improve Your Form
While exercise is typically good for your physical health, incorrect form and technique can be detrimental, causing shin splints and other injuries. If you are continuing to experience shin pains while following the previous tips, it may be worth having your form looked at by a sports medicine doctor or a physical therapist so they can help you to correct these issues.
Don’t Always Train In Spikes
If you train many times a week using spikes then you are putting your shins and calves under a lot of pressure.
Spikes are not built to provide the foot with a lot of support. Therefore constant use every session can lead to chronic injuries such as shin splints.
Spikes should only be worn during sets performed at or close to competition speed. Work performed below this intensity should be performed in trainers or even barefoot.
Proper Sprinting Mechanics
Proper sprinting mechanics can help prevent shin splints. In general, athletes often hit the ground too hard. Their foot-to-ground contact time is too long and/or they hit the ground with the wrong part of the foot.
which makes a very distinct sound.
While sprinting on a track, if there is a ‘thud’ with every foot strike, then you are hitting the ground too hard. Doing this repeatedly is sure to lead to shin splints or another kind of injury. Your spikes should scrape the surface of the track as you want your leg cycle to be as rapid as possible.
Check For Muscular Imbalances
Are your calf muscles way stronger than your shin muscles? Do you have one leg stronger than the other?
These things are important to consider and you should spend time making sure you don’t have any muscular imbalances.
This is often the case when you have shin splints in one leg. To eliminate muscular imbalances of the lower leg, try running with a shorter stride.
You can also perform exercises to strengthen the shin muscles. As you increase your strength you can gradually begin to open up your stride length.
This will take the pressure off the shins and allow you to continue running without discomfort or pain while strengthening at the same time.
Head To The Sandpit
Performing various drills and plyometric exercises in the sandpit is a great way to strengthen your ankles and shins.
The great thing about this type of training is that it is low impact. The sand provides an increased resistance that increases the workload that the muscles are used to.
The instability of the sand strengthens the muscles that stabilise the joints of the ankles, knees and hips.
Added benefits of this type of training include a greater range of motion and improved balance.