Shin splints are a common problem for many athletes, including runners, basketball players, and even freestyle skiers. Pain from shin splints is located along the tibia, and can be caused by either swollen muscles or stress fractures. Depending on the severity of the injury, shin splints can cause a few days’ discomfort or be debilitating for months. Read on to learn how to get rid of shin splints.
Causes of Shin Splints
Know what causes shin splints. Shin splints are caused by high impact on your heels, such as hurdling, running, long-jumping, triple-jumping, pole-vaulting, and jump roping. Other factors can also add to them, like old shoes, running surface, excessive training, and running form.
Your anatomy. Fallen arches (flat feet), knocked or internally rotated knees, very high arches and over rotation of the foot are all prime causes of shin splints. An orthopedic physician, athletic trainer, or physical therapist can help identify mechanical problems and may prescribe orthotics (custom shoe inserts) as well as strengthening and stretching exercises.
Doing too much too soon. Often people with a lot of enthusiasm start an exercise program too aggressively. It is important to gradually progress in your running or conditioning program, allowing for adequate rest between workouts.
Increasing the intensity or duration of your workouts. Overuse syndrome typically occurs when someone does too much and continually strains the muscles of the lower leg. Increasing your distance or intensity by more than 10% per week would make you a prime candidate for shin splints—especially if you don’t cross-train to diversity your program.
If you have shin splints, you may notice:
- Tenderness, soreness or pain along the inner part of your lower leg
- Mild swelling in your lower leg
- At first, the pain may stop when you stop running or exercising. Eventually, however, the pain may be continuous.
How to Get Rid of Shin Splints
Ice your shins. Freeze some water in a small, paper Dixie/disposable cup. When it’s frozen, run the cup under water to get the ice chunk out. Use the ice to rub your shins up and down. Rub this chunk on your shins for 10-20 minutes.
- Peel away the top of the Dixie/disposable cup once top ice starts to melt.
- Make sure to properly rest and stretch your legs as well.
- Do this every night.
Rest. If your shin splints have gotten to a point where they hurt even when you’re not training, then you need to take at least a couple days off, maybe a week or two.
Use an ice bath. Ice baths for about 8 to 10 minutes should help. Just make sure you rest and sit afterwards.
Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Drugs containing ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
- Make sure you take only the recommended dosage, since NSAIDs can lead to an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers.
- Don’t medicate with NSAIDs as a way to kill the pain to allow you to exercise as usual; that’s treating the symptom, not the problem, and you’ll only make your shin splints worse.
Stretch in the morning. Keep your muscles limber by stretching them before you go about your day. Try these stretches to help your shin splints heal more quickly:
- Do a stair stretch. Stand on a step or a stair so that your toes hang over the edge. Point your toes downward, then stretch them toward the ceiling. Repeat 20 times, rest for a few seconds, then repeat 20 more times.
- Stretch by kneeling. Kneel with the tops of your feet flat against the floor, then slowly sit back onto your feet. You should feel your shin muscles stretching.
- Stretch your Achilles tendon if you feel pain on the inside of the shin, which is most common. If you feel pain on the outside of the leg, stretch your calf muscle.
Try hot and cold therapy to help with the blood flow. Keep your feet in a cold bucket for 10 minutes. Change it to hot water for a few minutes. This can do wonders for recovery and relaxing the tibialis muscles.
Give yourself myofascial release massage. It can help relieve the tenderness and encourage healing of the shin splints by focusing on your fascia.
- Sit down on a comfortable chair.
- Press your thumb in the groove situated between your shinbone and the shin muscle on your sore leg.Put the other thumb over the top for added support.
- Rub down your leg. Do this once.
- Shift your thumb about 2.5cm (1″) to the outside of your leg and rub down again. Keep shifting your thumb and rubbing down the shin area until you’ve covered it all. You can repeat if wished but be gentle to start with.
- Continue as often as possible during the healing process.Press lightly to begin with, while the injury is fresh. As the injury continues to heal and the sensation is not so tense, press more deeply.
Get some sports massages. Sports massages are fantastic for treating many sporting injuries. They are especially useful for loosening the calf muscles and breaking down any scar tissue.
Go to the doctor. If your shin splints are making it difficult to get up and walk without pain, you should seek medical care. You may have fractures in your bones that are causing your legs to hurt. In rare cases, surgery is required to treat stress fractures and other causes of shin splints.
How to Prevent Shin Splints with General Strategies
Know that shin splints can be caused by several different factors. Shin splints aren’t a single medical condition, often. Shin splints can be caused by:
- Stress fractures, or small hairline fractures in your shin bone (tibia)
- Swollen or tired muscles in the lower legs
- Flat feet, or when the impact of running or walking causes the muscles in the lower foot to stretch out.
Do feet exercises. Tap your feet up and down while you’re sitting down. When you’re in bed, move your toes back and forth. Such exercises help building the muscles around your shins, which will support your shins more while you’re running.
Lose weight. Lots of adults in their 20’s begin to gain weight and don’t realize that this is why their shins and knees can’t take as much pounding as they used to. Guess what? Your eating habits have finally caught your metabolism and it’s time to start eating less. If you eat less and continue running, you are bound to lose some weight.
Consider arch supports. Arch supports can help prevent the pain of shin splints, especially if you have flat arches.
Check the condition of your shoes. If they look worn out, or don’t give you the support they once did, get a new pair. If and when you go shoe shopping, be sure to:
- Go later in the day. Your feet get swollen as the day progresses.
- Bring the socks with you that you usually exercise, play, or compete in. Bringing in socks that you’ll be running or performing in will help you evaluate the effectiveness of the shoe.
- Be sure to measure the size of both feet. One foot is often bigger than the other and needs to be fitted accordingly.
Try out a neoprene sleeve. Neoprene sleeves, which can be purchased at your local drugstore or online, provide warmth and support to cold muscles around the shin bone.
Get orthotics. Orthotics or arch supports can help stabilize the feet or people with flat feet, minimizing the stretching caused by poor support. Orthotics can be specially made or bought OTC.
Walk backwards whenever you can. This “reverses” the effect of shin splints or “contrasts” how you get them.
Strengthen muscles in that area of your leg. You can do this by walking around on your tip toes once in a while and walking around on your heels. Take opportunities around the house to walk around on your heels or toes.
How to Prevent Shin Splints Before You Exercise
Stretch before and after strenuous activity. You can do this by practicing these targeted exercises:
- With your heels together, your toes pointed out, and your arms outstretched in the air, slowly raise yourself up onto your toes before going back down again. Repeat ten times.
- With your heels apart, your toes together, and your arms outstretched in the air, slowly raise yourself up onto your toes before going back down again. Repeat ten times.
Start every run with a shin splint exercise. You’ll go 25 paces angling your feet/ankles in six different positions. There are three toe exercises and three ankle exercises. After about 2 weeks, your shin splints should minimize or disappear.
- Jog lightly, on your toes with your toes pointed forward for 25 paces.
- Turn your toes in (pigeon toed) and jog, still on your toes for 25 paces.
- Turn your toes out and jog on your toes for 25 paces.
- Land lightly on your heels with your toes pointed up. First straight forward.
- Point up and inward, then up and outward.
Warm up before and cool down after a hard workout. This will also help you feel less sore the next day.
Stretch your calf muscles. Tight calf muscles can contribute towards many lower leg injuries including shin splints. Try stretching the calf muscles, ensuring you target both Gastrocnemius and Soleus, several times a day. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
Do not run or play on very hard surfaces such as concrete. Run on a track with artificial padding, or on a treadmill with a little bit of give. Running on hard surfaces like concrete can exacerbate stress fractures in the bone. Try to find softer surfaces to run on such as a grassy park or a dirt trail. Running on pavement creates extra stress on your legs. Don’t switch back and forth from hard to soft during the same run.
Don’t run when it hurts. Don’t run longer than your shins can take. Pay attention to how your shins feel and when you can sense pain stop running and go home. Some days this may happen after you’ve only run a mile; other days you’ll last much longer. Eventually, your shins will get stronger and you’ll be able to run as long as you’d like. When your shins need rest, try another activity like biking or swimming. That way you can still stay in shape while not hurting your shins.
Rub your shins for 10 minutes after you complete a hard workout. This may increase circulation and help them to heal faster.
Tape your shins to alleviate the pain.
- Shave your leg(s). Shaving will help the tape stick better to the skin. It will also be less painful to remove the tape from your leg if you shave the hair off before applying it.
- Apply an underwrap. If you prefer not to place the tape against your skin, use a skin adhesive to place underwrap between the tape and skin. Using adhesive and underwrap is not as effective as using tape only.
- Wrap the tape around the shin.
- Place the edge of the roll of tape on the inside of your ankle, where the bone protrudes.
- Apply the tape from the anklebone over the foot at the top part of the ankle.
- Continue wrapping towards the back of the ankle at the Achilles tendon. Refrain from wrapping the tape too tightly around the Achilles tendon.
- Wrap the tape in a diagonal fashion upwards across the front of the leg.
- Tape around the leg two more times, continuing in an upward diagonal direction. Overlap each previous band of tape slightly. The tape should cross over the part of your shin that is in pain. Do not wrap your calf muscle.
- Cut the tape with scissors.
- Test the tape. Walk around before exercising. If the tape is too tight, remove it and repeat the taping process, wrapping the tape more loosely.
- Remove the tape.Take the tape off of your shin after you have finished exercising.
Use a compression stocking or elastic wrap. These devices help increase circulation in the area and speed recovery.
Elevate your shins. Sit or lay down with your legs above your heart. Do this several times a day for 30 minutes.
If you do get shin splints, give your injury time to heal. Treat as just that: an injury, not an inconvenience or something you’ll have to start settling with from now on. Give your joints a break every so often and swim or bike instead of running as an exercise.
- It could take a period of 3 to 6 months before your shin splints are fully healed. Give your joints a rest during that period of time and don’t rush back into the sport or exercise that caused the injury.
- Don’t walk around on your heels and toes too much. A few minutes a day should be sufficient.
- If you push your shins splints too hard, they can develop into stress fractures, which will take even more recuperation time. If your shins start to hurt badly on the bone rather than the tendon or muscle, tell a doctor. This could be the beginning of a stress fracture and need to be treated.
- Avoid running on hills and prolonged running on hard surfaces until you feel the shin splints are completely healed. Then, gradually add hills in to your runs.
- Don’t always run laps the same direction or on the same side of the road. Switch direction or sides, so one leg doesn’t have more stress than the other.
- Try not to “stomp” your feet when you run. This will put less stress on your shins.
- Run on softer ground. Avoid concrete surfaces and run on dirt or grass.
- Don’t do too much training too quickly. You shouldn’t increase the distance you run too quickly, especially if you are a new runner or have not run in a while. A good rule of thumb is to never increase your mileage by more than 10% a week.
- Find out what type of arch your foot has. If you are flat-footed or have an over-prorate arch, you are more at risk for shin splints.
- Take it easy when you go down a hill. If possible, coast down a hill on a grassy surface. This will also decrease your chances of slipping and falling.
- Insert arch supports in your running shoes or see your doctor about other orthopedics that can help with shin splints.
- Use running shoes that support your feet and running biomechanics.
- Continue stretching your shins even after the pain in the shins subsides, as a preventative measure.