Shin splints are some of the most frustrating injuries that can happen to any athlete. They are common among runners and can take a long time to heal. There is a nagging pain associated with shin splits that typically runs along the front of the leg and it can be very difficult to get this pain to go away. Shin splints can last for months and get worse if they aren’t treated.
While shin splints typically occur in runners, other athletes, such as soccer and basketball players and those who do a great deal of running are also prone to shin splints.
For most athletes, the pain of shin splints is so bad that running becomes impossible, and it puts most athletes on the sidelines for quite some time. Icing, pain management and even changing running shoes can all help with shin splints but won’t necessarily heal them.
Different trainers, therapists and fitness bloggers may have different tips and tricks for helping with shin splints, but there is no quick fix for this condition. There are, however, ways that you can help treat this frustrating and unfortunately common issue, but it will take some time and a few steps.
Diagnosing Shin Splints
Before you can start treating shin splints, you need to make sure that is what you are dealing with. Shin splint pain is pretty recognizable for most athletes. It is a dull, nagging pain that typically runs along the tibia in the front of your leg, between your knees and ankles.
Typically pain occurs before and after exercise, especially in the early stages and most runners notice it almost immediately if they slow down or stop while running. Pain is also typically worse when pressure is applied to the area. In certain, more rare cases of shin splints, there may also be a tight, throbbing pain in the outer muscular part of the shin.
If this is what you are dealing with, you are likely battling shin splints. Most people can treat shin splints on their own with time and rest. However, if you feel as though the pain is unbearable, you may want to visit your doctor for x-rays to see if you are dealing with stress fractures in the shin. A typical sign of this is when the tibia bone hurts after it is touched or tapped. This can happen when some athletes continue to run or stress the area once shin splints have already developed.
Understanding the Source of the Pain
Before you can fix or treat shin splints, you need to understand what you are dealing with. Shin splints is not an acute injury, it is actually a broad term used to describe multiple issues in the lower-leg. The most common type of shin splint comes from bone-related shin pain, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome. This occurs when the bone actually swells, over time, this is what can lead to stress fractures.
This type of stress fracture typically occurs because of three main factors, your foot type, your build and how you strike your foot when you run. The less common type of shin splint is muscular. It occurs when there is a tightening in the muscles around the shin that gets worse during exercise. Typically, it occurs in the front part of the shin only and the area is pain free when the individual is not exercising.
When you know what the source of your pain is and what type of shin splint you are dealing with, you can start treating.
How to Fix Bone Related Shin Splints
Stress injuries such as bone-related shin splints can eventually become stress fractures, so it is important to take resting seriously and to visit a doctor if the pain persists or gets worse. Rest is the only way for these shin splints to heal, but it should be dynamic rest, so the body can stay healthy and active. This will speed up the recovery. Swimming and biking are great alternatives because they do not put the same type of pressure on the bone during exercise.
In addition to resting, daily icing is key with shin splints. It will help with the swelling and inflammation and help keep the pain at bay.
You can also help change your own foot mechanics to take some of the stress off your shins while you rest and recover. The less stress there is on the shin, the faster shin splints will heal. Consider arch supports that unload the pressure on the inside part of your foot or motion control shoes that help with pronation. You typically can’t just stay off your feet when you have shin splints, so adding these to your everyday footwear can help tremendously.
How to Fix Muscular-Related Shin Splints
If you are dealing with muscular shin splints, or those that occur only when you are active, then you need to treat the muscles surrounding this area. The best thing that you can do for these muscles is to foam roll.
You should be rolling the entire area surrounding both calves and shins for 5-10 minutes at a time. Try to do this 3-4 times per day.
When you have muscular shin splints, you are likely dealing with a tight fascia, which is the material that covers the muscles. When you foam roll this fascia regularly, it will help loosen up the muscles and prevent them from becoming so tight when you run.
Consider a muscle-loosening ointment such as Bio-freeze Orthogel to really loosen up the muscles as well. You can manually massage these creams into the muscles several times a day to loosen the area up.
As with bone-related shin splints, it is also important to work on the biomechanical issues in your feet. Adding arch supporters to your shoes or investing in motion-control shoes can also help during the recovery process. Of course, resting and doing other cross-training exercises that don’t stress out the feet and shins can also help with the recovery.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
Once you have rested and healed, it is important to know what you can do moving forward to prevent shin splints from happening again. Unfortunately, since shin splints are more likely to develop in individuals due to their build, foot type and foot strike, most people who have shin splints will experience them again in their lifetime, especially if they are avid runners or play sports.
Here are a few ways to prevent shin splints from occurring again:
- Switch shoes or consider inserts. Arch supports can help with shin splints as can shoes and inserts that limit foot pronation.
- Ice regularly. If your shins are starting to bother you, ice after exercise to keep the swelling down. It will help with pain and prevent bone shin splints from turning into stress fractures.
- Take care of your bone health. This is particularly important for women. Add calcium and vitamin D to your diet to help build up bone density.
- Change up your stride. Your running stride has a great deal to do with your chances of getting shin splints. The best way to change your stride is to actually shorten your stride. Some runners think that lengthening their stride, and having less strikes on the pavement will help with shin splints, when in reality it will make them worse. Practice by counting your footstrikes for one minute while you run. Your goal should be to have 85 to 90 strikes on each foot every minute.
- Take it slow with your training. Most runners know the 10 percent rule and it is very important for those who have shin splints. Never up your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent. Making bigger jumps than this while training can put a great deal of stress on the shins.
- Strengthen your entire leg. Training when you have shin splints is about more than just your calves and shin area. Train and strengthen your hips as well, it will help make you a stronger runner and help change your body mechanics so less pressure is going on your shins.
- Do core work. A strong core means a strong stride and it can actually help improve footstrike so less pressure is going on the shins.