How to Prevent Shin Splints When Running
Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries experienced by both weekend warriors and semi-elite athletes; and yet, also one of the most preventable. Generally, most runners tend to try and run through shin splints or hope that it goes away on its own. Spoiler alert - unless you address these key areas below, shin splints are going to keep coming back.
Prevention is always better than a temporary cure. So, as a runner, how can you prevent shin splints? We’ve got the answers to get you back on track.
What Causes Shin Splints?
If you’re constantly running on hard surfaces, you’re likely familiar with the uncomfortable sensation of shin splints. Characterised by tenderness, soreness, and pain along the shin bone, shin splints can stop you mid-run, but also may come on post-run.
The cause of shin splints is relatively simple - leg muscles and bones are being placed under too much stress, too quickly.
When we run, our leg muscles and bones are repeatedly put under strain — if you’ve built up strength at a regular pace or regular intervals, this isn’t a problem.
What causes shin splints to occur is a sudden increase in this strain, like when you drastically increase the intensity, length, or regularity of your runs. Couple these with a prior period of low running activity, and you’ve perfected the recipe for oncoming shin splints.
But shin splints aren’t just a running thing - other sports activities that place the same sort of pressure on the leg can similarly cause shin splints, such as ballet dancing or gymnastics.
Obviously, the best way to prevent and manage shin splints is to work directly with your physio, who can work with you to provide personalised strategies for avoiding pain from shin splints. However, for the sake of providing a general guide, here are some ways to prevent shin splints when running.
How You Can Prevent Shin Splints as a Runner
Avoid Hard, Concrete Surfaces
Hard surfaces like concrete pavements are hard to avoid when you live in a metropolitan city. However, running all of your runs on the road, pavement, or sidewalk won’t offer much in the way of natural shock absorbance. Hard surfaces can cause your legs to bear the full brunt of your body’s weight upon each impact with the ground, increasing your chances of getting shin splints.
Try running on softer surfaces like grass, trails, or the track to mitigate pressure on your shins.
Stretch and Warm Up Before Running
Take it from us - your warm up matters. Easily the most overlooked part of being a runner, warming up is crucial to preventing shin splints.
In actual fact, warming up is the most overlooked part of any exercise routine. Your body’s muscles and joints need to physically warm up (hence the name) and stretch to be able to function at peak capacity. Whether it’s your easy run or your Tuesday track session - warming up is crucial to avoid injury.
Take at least 15 minutes to jog lightly, do some dynamic stretches, and drills that will get your blood pumping and your muscles nice and limber.
Wear the Right Shoes
Footwear is a big deal when it comes to running. There’s a reason why so many sports physiotherapists focus on ensuring clients have the right footwear: a fitting shoe for your feet can help to distribute the stress and weight and reduce the risk of injuries like shin splints.
Make sure you are wearing shoes that match your foot shape. Those with flat feet will face a higher risk of getting shin splints due to the increase in stress on their lower leg muscles and should wear shoes designed for flat-footedness. Your footwear can help you to combat this, providing the support needed to your aches.
Do Strength Training
For any runner, running is only half the equation. To actively avoid injuries like shin splints, strength training is vital. Strength training will provide your body and muscles with mobility, balance, and of course strength; ensuring that your muscles have the capabilities to keep injury at bay.
Strength training doesn’t have to be an hour of hitting the gym a day. For example, one of the best ways to prevent shin splints is simple exercises like calf raises - doing 10-15 calf raises every other day and working up to 3-4 sets can strengthen the lower leg muscles, improve flexibility, and combat shin splints.
Give Yourself Enough Time to Rest & Recover
If you’re dealing with shin splints, it’s an indication that you need to give your body more time to recover. The body can take up to 24 hours to recover from a hard workout, and the effects of a gruelling session can be felt for at least a few days.
If you’re not giving yourself enough time to rest and recover between jogs, you’re only going to be putting more strain on your lower legs, increasing the chances of shin splints coming back.
Work Back Up to Those More Intense Workouts
If you’re prone to shin splints, make sure to build back up before hitting those more intense workouts or sessions. Start slow and focus on getting your easy jogs in, without pain. If you can’t go for a 20 minute run without feeling like your shins are on fire, then you’re pushing too hard, too soon.
Shin splints will only get worse with harder sessions, so build slowly. It’s going to be frustrating, but your body will thank you in the long run.
Tips for Managing Shin Splint Pain
Even with the preventive methods, shin splints can still happen; particularly if you’ve experienced shin pain before. Prevention is all good and well, but what can you do if you know you’ve got shin splints, and you want to put a stop to the pain?
Here are some tips to get short-term relief from the pain, as well as a long-term treatment solution.
Applying ice to the lower leg area can help to numb the pain, reduce inflammation, and provide some temporary relief. The cold can also help to reduce the amount of swelling that is caused by shin splints.
Don’t leave ice packs on the affected area for too long; a period of 5-10 minutes should be sufficient to bring the level of pain and swelling down.
Over the counter anti-inflammatories can also help with inflammation, swelling, and pain relief. Go to your local chemist or pharmacy, and you’ll be able to find an anti-inflammatory medication to help with your shin splints.
Seek Help from Your Physio
More often than not, shin splints are a recurring injury. Shin splints will continue to come back and haunt you if you’re not doing enough strength, wearing the wrong footwear, or are constantly running on hard surfaces. One of the best ways to effectively manage and treat shin splints for good is to work with a qualified physio to help you manage the injury once and for all.
A physiotherapist will work with you to determine what’s causing shin splints, work with you on your running gait and behaviours, and identify the areas that can be improved to beat shin splints for good.