Shin Splints 101

Tuesday1I 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.  IMG_1471
  • 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.  IMG_1469
  • 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?

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Shin Splints 101 — 22 Comments

    • I’m so glad you’ve avoided them! It’s been a while since I had them but they were pretty painful! Thanks for linking up!

  1. Luckily I have never had Shin Splints ( but I made up for it with horrible IT band pain). I did not know that tight calves can lead to PF. I do have very tight calves so I will have to work on that. Thanks for the tip!

    • That IT injury is such a difficult and painful one! My massage therapist says that tight muscles are a big cause of most running injuries. That reminds me, I need to get on the foam roller tonight!! Thanks for linking up with us today!

  2. When I was training for my first half I developed what I thought was a bad case of shin splints. I took almost two full weeks off, rested, iced, rolled, etc. I ran the half and felt great until mile 8. My leg rebelled at that point and I finished with a combination of walking and running. Long story short, after two more weeks of pain and barely being able to walk I learned I had 2 stress fractures. One from the initial training and the second caused by running the half on an already weakened leg. I’ve been in a boot now since June 3 and have at least 3 more weeks to go.

    • Yikes! Stress fractures are one of my biggest running injury phobias. So sorry you had to deal with that and best wishes for a speedy recovery!!

  3. I’ve dealt with shin splint issues on and off for years, clear back to when I started running longer distances in junior high. Such a pesky issue! I’m a firm believe in the cup method that you mentioned since it also acts as a “massage” (well a painful one but it does the trick) lol! I’m also sold on ice baths for all aches in general. They really do help. I hurt my ankle during my 5K over the weekend (my link up post details that little adventure lol) and have been icing non-stop. My husband also filled a cooler with ice and super cold water and no joke made me stick my foot in it. Lol it seemed like a crazy idea but it worked wonders! I think as runners ice comes to be one of our BRFs too (well unless it causes us to slip and fall during winter training!) Lol!
    Hope recently posted…Race Recap: West Virginia 5K ChampionshipMy Profile

    • I want to find a big bucket to use to ice down my lower legs and feet after a run so I don’t have to sit all the way down in the ice bath! I can stand it up to my knees, but putting my behind down in a tub of ice water is not fun! Thanks for linking up with us today!

    • Glad you got your resolved and it was such an easy fix! So many times, it does come down to the right pair of shoes!

    • They are no fun and can progress to serious injuries. I’m glad mine seem to have healed up all the way!

    • Yeah, ice baths are one of the many things in running that hurt and feel good all at the same time!

  4. Great tips April! Thankfully I haven’t had to worry about shin splints. But I will definitely take all this good advice to heart.

    • Thanks for linking up with us! Shin splints are no fun, I’m hoping I’ve seen the last of them!

  5. been dealing with this lately. Mine started after a day of fun with my kids but I have been fighting it with ice, compression socks, new shoes and stretching.
    Steve recently posted…Bloglovin testMy Profile

    • Sounds like you have a great strategy for fast healing. Hope you heal up quickly!

  6. I haven’t had shin splints before *knock on wood* and I really hope I don’t ever. They sound super painful. I am dealing with ITBS right now though and about halfway through physical therapy. Can’t wait to run again in a few weeks!

    • They sure aren’t fun but they are pretty treatable. Your ITBS sounds really awful, hope that the PT keeps on working and you’re back on the road soon!

  7. Shin splints, no. Plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, yes. All of these are troubling and take a while to get over. And yet, they are pretty much preventable if you go about things the right way. But you have to go through it to learn what not to do…
    Randy recently posted…Chi RunningMy Profile

    • I agree, a lot of running injuries just take some trial and error to figure out what you need to do for your body mechanics!