Probably the most common running ailment, especially among newer runners is shin splints. This is a painful condition that feels like daggers being shoved into your shins when running.
Let’s discuss how you can go about preventing shin splints and what to do if you get this painful condition.
What Causes Shin Splints?
Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are an inflammation of the lower leg muscles and tendons around the tibia (shin) bone.
The most common cause of this inflammation and developing shin splints is poor running form, combined with repetitive overuse. Running or sprinting on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt or engaging in activities that require repetitive jumping or hopping motions exacerbates the problem.
Increasing mileage too quickly from week to week can also trigger shin splints. If you fail to participate in endurance sports over the winter, and then start back up quickly in the spring, you could be susceptible to shin splints.
The shin area has a very small group of lower leg muscles. Engaging them over and over again naturally causes them to falter quickly, resulting in irritation and shin splints. The best solution is to not engage them with good running form.
So how do we improve our running form? Read on.
What are the Solutions For Treating and Preventing Shin Splints?
#1 Solution – Improve Your Running Form
Shin splints are almost always caused when a runner’s form has him/her landing on their heels before pushing off with their toes. Being a “heel striker” can lead to a lot of injuries, so improving your form will do wonders for your health.
Your shin muscles engage when you lift your toes up. When you heel strike, you unconsciously engage them over and over again. It won’t take long before the muscles become overworked and they’ll let you know it. Your shin muscles are actively engaged when your heel strikes, sending a very intense shockwave shooting up the shin bone.
When you land on your heel, your foot is in front of your body, and the impact forces of each stride are transmitted through your heel, up your leg, and into your body. This can cause jarring forces on your joints and muscles, leading to injuries such as shin splints, knee pain, and even stress fractures. On the other hand, landing on your toes can put too much pressure on the front of your foot, leading to calf strains and Achilles tendonitis.
Also, landing on your heels is similar to “putting on the brakes” since you lose momentum with every stride. It’s extremely inefficient and harmful which is why you don’t see any professional runners landing this way.
The solution is to aim for a midfoot strike, where your foot lands flat on the ground, between your heel and your toes. This allows your foot and shoe to act as a natural shock absorber, reducing the impact forces on your body. Moreover, it enables you to push off the ground more efficiently and generate more power with each stride. Proper form is even more important as you try to run faster.
A mid-foot strike will go a long way in preventing shin splints, while greatly improving your running efficiency and performance. It’s actually the body’s natural running form.
Look at barefoot children running around in the yard. Do they run so their heels strike first? No, because that would be painful. Instead, they run naturally by landing on their midfoot and pushing off with their toes.
You won’t engage your shin muscles if you land on your midfoot, so goodbye shin splints.
Here are a few additional tips to help you maintain good running form:
- Keep your head up and your eyes looking straight ahead. This will help you maintain a good posture and prevent unnecessary tension in your neck and shoulders.
- Relax your arms and keep them close to your body. Swing your arms forward and backward, not across your body, and avoid clenching your fists.
- Keep your core engaged and your hips level. This will help you maintain stability and prevent any twisting or rotating of your pelvis.
- Take short, quick strides and aim for a cadence of around 180 steps per minute. This helps to reduce the impact forces on your body and improve running efficiency. Long strides are worse for your body as they tend to promote a heel strike.
Looking for additional running form help, check out the book Chi Running by Danny Dryer. They have great exercises to help you adopt a midfoot landing pattern easily.
#2 Solution – Wear The Right Running Shoes
It’s important to wear footwear that fits well and provides the right amount of cushioning for your feet – it can make a huge difference in avoiding discomfort and preventing shin splints.
Consider how much cushion your athletic shoes provide, as well as the overall fit. Running shoes that are too tight or lack adequate cushioning can lead to an increase in foot stress and strain on the lower leg muscles, which can exacerbate shin splints.
Check out our tips on how to pick out the best shoes for your running style.
We also cannot stress enough how important it is to use good running shoe inserts in your running shoes. Running insoles place your foot in the proper position so you stay healthy while running.
#3 Solution – Use a Foam Roller
Foam rolling can help relieve the tension in the muscles surrounding the shin bone, reducing inflammation and promoting healing. I swear by this and found that it can greatly speed up healing. But be forewarned, this can hurt a bit, especially the first few times you do it.
To use a foam roller to prevent shin splints, start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place the foam roller under your calf muscles and slowly slide your legs up and down the length of your calf, focusing on the areas where you feel the most tension or discomfort. You can also rotate your leg to target the outer and inner areas of your calf muscles.
Next, you’ll flip over and do the same to the front of your shins. To do this, place the foam roller on the ground and kneel in front of it with your shins on top of the roller. Slowly roll the foam roller up and down the length of your shins, focusing on the areas where you feel the most discomfort. This will hurt a bit as it does its magic, but the speed of your healing will be sped up overnight. This tension in the muscles surrounding the shin bone will hopefully be relieved a bit, reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
Use the foam roller regularly, especially after running or other high-impact exercises. I make it a habit and do it every night for 5 minutes while watching TV. I set the timer on my triathlon watch to make it easy.
#4 Solution – Kinesiology Tape
You’ve probably seen some kinesiology tape covering athletes on TV or in a race somewhere. Kinesiology Tape is a stretchy, adhesive tape that can be applied to the skin to provide support and reduce pain and inflammation. Using KT tape is less for preventing shin splints, and more for reducing the pain associated with shin splints.
Kinesiology tape works by lifting the skin, allowing for increased blood flow and lymphatic drainage, which can reduce inflammation and promote healing. It can also help stabilize the muscles and tendons surrounding the shin bone, reducing the risk of further injury and pain.
It has worked miracles for many athletes, so it should definitely be part of your rehabilitation.
Start by applying a piece of KT tape along the outside of your shin, from just below the knee to just above the ankle. Then, apply another piece of tape along the inside of your shin, from just below the knee to just above the ankle. The tape should be applied with a slight stretch to provide support and reduce tension in the muscles surrounding the shin bone.
It’s important to note that Kinesiology Tape only works when applied properly. Kinesiology Tape should also be removed gently and replaced as needed to ensure it remains effective.
The cool part is that the tape comes in a ton of different colors, so you can match them to your favorite outfit.
#5 Solution – Stretch Before & After Exercising
Calf stretches are very helpful for avoiding and treating shin splints. Tight calves can lead to shin splints and knee issues if not treated, so stretching them every day is a good thing to do.
Stretching your calves can help soothe away tightness that might be causing discomfort.
For best results, you should focus on lengthening the muscles along the backside of your lower leg while performing calf stretches. This includes both gastrocnemius (the two-headed muscle commonly referred to as the ‘calf’) and soleus (a single-headed muscle located underneath the gastrocnemius).
Find somewhere you can elevate your toes while dropping your heels. You’ll want to do this slowly and hold in a deep stretch for approximately 10 seconds. That’s it. Do this for both calves before and after every run.
#6 Solution – Taking A Break from Running
Taking breaks from running or cross-training may be the only way to get rid of shin splints. Cross-training involves switching up your routine so that you don’t overwork any one muscle group. Adding in an ice massage or cold plunge / portable cold plunge after each workout can help reduce inflammation around your shins as well.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends taking at least one day off from any kind of physical activity each week, in order to allow for adequate rest and recovery.
When you’re suffering from extreme shin splints, sometimes the only solution is to completely rest the area so the inflammation goes down and your body recovers. This can be a few days, a week, or more.
#7 Solution – Seek Professional Help if Needed
Sometimes, you simply need to seek advice from a medical professional when you’re experiencing any prolonged pain or discomfort while exercising.
Shin splints can be caused by many factors, and it’s important to identify the underlying problem in order to prevent further injury. A sports doctor can provide an accurate diagnosis and create an individualized treatment plan that may include physical therapy, medication, rest, or activity modification.
I would try to seek out a doctor who is well-versed in treating running-specific injuries. See if another runner in your area can recommend an orthopedic professional.
Shin splints are no fun, plain and simple. If you’re already suffering from them, you should take steps to alleviate the pain caused, while working to improve your running form.
Wear proper shoes, stretch before and after exercise, warm up and cool down, and take a break when needed in order to heal sufficiently.
Start slow, and increase mileage gradually. Check out our half marathon pace chart if you need help estimating a run time.
Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase the product. This site is not intended to provide medical advice and you should always consult with a physician before beginning any physical activity.