I know that every beginning runner doesn’t get shin splints, but it sure seems like it’s one of the most common overuse injuries for a new runner. I was no exception, even though I gradually eased into running with three months of walking and then the gradual addition of running intervals, I woke up one day with that distinctive tenderness on the front and a little on the inside of both shins. And I realized that I’d joined the ranks of many other runners afflicted with shin splints.
Shin splints are an overuse injury that can cause a lot of pain during and after a run due to the inflammation of the muscle and/or tendons in the shin area. They are considered an overuse injury but can be brought on by:
- Too quick increase in speed, distance and/or frequency of weight bearing exercise. In fact, they are very common in military recruits because of the demanding nature of basic training.
- Worn out shoes and/or running on very hard surfaces. Trails are softer than asphalt which is softer than concrete. My worst shin splints were when I was running only on sidewalks.
- Very tight calf muscles. It’s important to note that tight calf muscles can also contribute to plantar fasciiatis and Achilles tendonitis, so calf stretching is very important for injury prevention!
- Pronation, which is when your foot tends to roll inward more than usual when you run. A running shoe store can help you determine if you pronate (your shoe wear pattern can give you a hint too) and can help put you in shoes to control that motion.
Ok, ok, you aren’t nearly as interested in what causes shin splints, your legs hurt now and you’re freaking out that maybe you just aren’t cut out to be a runner (or was that just me when I had them?). You want to know what to do to cure them and prevent them from coming back.
Here are some techniques that may help and prevent shin splints (just a reminder, I’m a CPA, not a doctor, check with your own doctor for actual medical advice):
- Take it slow. Increase your speed and distance very gradually. The rule of 10% says you can increase one or the other by 10% a week, but not both. So, if you’re running 5 miles a week, the next week you should increase to 5.5 miles, but at the same pace. Or you can keep running that same 5 miles, but 10% faster.
- Not so often. Consider keeping your frequency at a maximum of every other day. If you’re not injury prone, feel free to hit the pavement every day. I know my body and it can’t take that frequency, so I stick to 3x a week and it seems to help with injury reduction.
- Ice, Ice, Baby. Ice is your friend. Freeze ice in a paper cup and peel off the outside at the edge and rub it on your shins after a run. Invest in some soft reusable ice packs. I have some that wrap around and have velcro/elastic straps so I can put them on without having to hold them there. I actually resorted to ice baths after my long runs which was a big help.
- Rest. If your shin splints are very painful, consider taking a week or two off to let them calm down before you run again. You can keep your fitness with walking, biking, swimming or the elliptical.
- Cushion. Run on more forgiving surfaces. Choose asphalt over concrete and trails over asphalt. Consider inserts for your shoes to provide a little more shock absorption. I like superfeet inserts but there are lots of good brands. Make sure you’re not running in worn out shoes that have lost their support and cushioning.
- Compression. I’m not sure there is any actual research on this, but there are lots of anecdotal success stories of using compression sleeves or socks to reduce shin splint pain and help in healing. When I was training for my first Princess Half Marathon, I did invest in some compression sleeves to help with my shin splints and I think they were very effective. I’ve since switched to compression socks because I like to wear them for both running and recovery. I like them to be fairly thin with medium compression. The two brands I use are Procompression (they often have discount codes on their Facebook site) and Bondiband Compression (use code SPARKLE for 10% off).
- Stretch & strengthen. Stretch out your calves after every run. Roll them out or use The Stick. Get massages to loosen them up. Strengthen your feet, calves and shins by a variety of exercises which tend to involve standing on a step, box or curb and going up on your toes, then dropping your heels down and then standing on your heels and lifting your toes up. Google can be helpful in finding shin splint exercises.
- Visit a professional. If none of the above help, a doctor or physical therapist may be able to help with exercises and stretching and maybe even some anti-inflammatory medicine.
Whatever you do, don’t give up and assume you just aren’t cut out to be a runner. Shin splints hurt and need to be addressed, but they are very common and for most runners, once you figure out what works for your body you often don’t have to deal with them ever again.
Have you struggled with shin splints? What worked best for you in healing and preventing them?