Sore Shins: A Close Look at Treating and Preventing Shin Splints

Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries out there. It causes sore shins in the lower legs for runners. The pain of shin splints can be intense, annoying, and nearly every runner can empathize with how difficult they are to deal with. Fortunately, we have some tips and best practices runners can use to treat and prevent sore shins so you can get on with your training and meet your personal goals!

Sore Shins: A Close Look at Treating and Preventing Shin Splints

Shin splints are officially known as medial tibial stress syndrome, which presents as an aching pain on the front of your lower leg–on the shin bone, next to the tibia and calf muscles. If you ignore your shin pain, it can get so bad that it keeps you from running–or even worse, lead to a stress fracture. If you get a tibial stress fracture, that can halt your training for six weeks or more. So, it’s important to prevent and treat them. 

What Causes Shin Splints? 

While runners of every level can get shin splints, it’s more common among newer runners who may start out their training too quickly, making shin soreness an overuse injury. Women are also two to three times more likely to get shin splints.

Most sports medicine experts agree that common causes of sore shins and shin splints are caused by a slight bending of the shin bone when the foot hits the ground–especially while running on hard surfaces. In experienced, runners who are used to high mileage training, the body responds to shin splints by reforming and strengthening the tibia, making it thicker and hardier. 

In less experienced runners, the tibia hasn’t had time to “learn” how to get stronger, making new runners more susceptible to the injury. However, there are ways to help prevent and treat them when it happens.

Preventing Sore Shins

In a perfect world, we’d always be able to prevent shin splints. Here are some of the things runners can do to make them less likely” 

  • Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent per week. Your body needs time to adapt to the increased workload and pounding on your legs. Furthermore, don’t forget to warm up with an easy jog and stretching before you turn on any intensity in a training workout. 
  • Keep an eye on the shape of your running shoes. Once they are wearing down (every few hundred miles or so), it’s time to replace them to support your legs. Don’t skimp on running shoes–they can be a little expensive, but the right pair are well worth it. 
  • Ice baths aren’t exactly comfortable, but they have an amazing impact. In college, I used to sit in an ice bath up to my waist for 15-20 minutes. It’s blasting cold at first, but then you go numb after a few minutes. Ice water has serious anti-inflammatory and healing properties! 
  • Cross-training: There’s no getting around it. Running is a high-impact sport. But you can get in quality cardiovascular and strength training sessions without all the impact. Try biking, the elliptical, swimming, pilates, or yoga
  • Don’t always run on hard surfaces like the road. Do some of your running on grass or a track. 

Let’s take a look at this video about the best ways to prevent shin splints for runners: 

Treating Shin Splints

Despite our best efforts, shin splints are still going to happen sometimes. If you start treating them early on, chances are you’ll avoid more pain down the road. Here are some of the best strategies from getting rid of them and keeping your training on track: 

  • Ice baths aren’t just good for shin pain prevention, they are also great for treating them! Whenever I have them, I fill up a bucket or clean trash can that goes up to my knees with ice water and read a book, watch TV, or work on my computer, 15 to 20 minutes goes by fast! 
  • You can also freeze small dixie cups full over water. Once frozen peel off the the top part of the paper and massage your skins with the ice. Ice packs also work great! 
  • If you find you’re prone to shin pain and keep getting shin splints over and over, consider orthotics for your shoes. Talk to an orthopedic specialist you can get you properly fitted. It can make all the difference. 
  • Strengthen your calves–they support your shin muscles. Start with 20 calf raises on each leg and work up to three sets, twice per day. You can also place your toes on the edge of a stair transfer your weight to one leg at a time to strengthen those calf muscles.
  • Over-the-counter ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling while you’re healing. However, don’t use it merely to “mask the pain” of your shins. It can be used in conjunction with other treatment options.  Don’t overdo it. A maximum of 500-600 mg per day while you heal should be enough. 

Here’s a great video to check out on how to foster excellent calf health:

  • Try wearing elastic compression bandages over your shins to support the bone and speed up healing. 
  • Get a foam roller to massage over your shins and reduce pain.

Now, let’s hear from our own Coach Nate on how to fix shin splints–and his personal experience:

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