How To Treat Shin Splints For Runners – Without Stopping Your Training

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Most runners have probably experienced the pain of shin splints at some point in their careers.

That painful ache in the front of your lower legs after a run or brisk walk can be extremely unpleasant!

Shin splints are usually associated with new runners, but they can happen to any runner –especially if you’ve been ramping up the miles. The good news is that there are ways to treat shin splints without using the dreaded “R” word: rest.

Here’s how to treat shin splints for runners!

What Are Shin Splints?

Shin splints are medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome.

That’s a fancy way of saying that the stress from high-impact activities, such as running, can cause inflammation in your shinbone (also known as the tibia) and the surrounding leg muscles and bone tissues. This inflammation of the muscles and tissues is what causes the dreaded leg pain.

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What Causes Shin Splints for Runners?

Shin splints can be caused by a variety of sports injuries and risk factors:

Overuse is the number one cause. This can happen if you suddenly start a high-volume of high-intensity exercise routine after a long period of not doing much physical activity, such as if you ramp up your training miles quickly.

In marathon training? Avoid over-training by following one of our marathon training plans, which feature structured increases in mileage!

It may also occur if you start running more on hard surfaces, like concrete, or running hills.

You may also suffer from shin splints if you are using shoes with poor fit or support. (Or you well-fitting shoes have been worn down from too many miles!)

(Looking for new running shoes?  Here’s our latest recommendations for running shoes!)

Lesson commonly, physical conditions can also cause shin splints for runners, like flat feet, and weak muscles in the core, hip, or ankles.

It is recommended that in these cases, you seek the medical advice of a healthcare provider who will do a complete medical history and physical exam.

How to Heal Shin Splints

Many times, the number one answer for how to heal shin splints is to rest.

However, most runners simply cannot abide that answer. They either have a race to train for, or their sanity will simply not allow it!

So, if shin splints are ruining your runs, or wreaking havoc on your recovery, there are a few things you can do to actively heal.

Here are six methods to treat shin splints that don’t involve hanging up your running shoes!

Please make sure you only do these if you have been cleared by a healthcare provider. It is essential to ensure nothing more serious is happening, which can be confirmed through an x-ray or bone scan if needed.

Cross Train – You can take a break from running so often (especially if you run on hard surfaces) by cross-training more! Lifting weights is an excellent idea because you’ll strengthen the muscles that may have been causing your shin splints. You can also get cardio in by doing low-impact exercises like swimming or riding a bike.

Run on Different Surfaces – If you can, run on softer surfaces like grass or dirt. Avoid concrete and ease up on those hill repeats.

Compression – Wrap your shins or wear compression garments to keep your tendons close to your bone and support your entire shin while you run. You could also use KT tape for this!

Use Inserts – Check out shoe inserts if you find that overpronation is causing your shin splints. You can get fitted for custom inserts or try some from your local running store. Custom orthotics with proper arch support can help ease your symptoms of shin splints.

Ice and Ibuprofen – Ice your shins with ice packs after every run. Try to ice for at least 20 minutes every time. You can also take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or ibuprofen pain relievers to relieve symptoms of shin splints.

Stretch and Foam Roll – Stretch out your ankles, Achilles heel, calf, and shin muscles by stretching and foam rolling daily. Be careful when you foam roll your shins, though. That can be very painful! Start with very light pressure and work your way up. Or, better yet, seek out professional help through physical therapy!

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Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries, and can be a real pain, both physical and mentally!

If you start to feel that ache after every run, take action now!

If you let shin splints go, they can turn into a more serious problem, like a stress fracture.

Reassess your training plan, take time to stretch and ice, and run with caution!

You got this!

References and further reading:



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Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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