Shin Splints: Stop Them Before They Stop You

| 23/01/2018 | 0 Comments More

IMG_1274Increasing your mileage? New to running? Don’t let the most common injury stop you before you’ve really got going.

One minute you’re flying, feet pounding the pavements in effortless rhythm; the next, you’re doubled over, crippled by a sharp pain shooting up your shins. Shin splints – they’re a runner’s weaken, and are simply described as pain in the shins or up the front of the lower legs.

Their cause? In short, doing too much, too soon – from tackling a 5km from a starting couch position, to increasing your regular 10km to a 20km overnight, to unrealistically upping your pace.

Any running coach worth their tracksuit will tell you to increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent each week.


Shin splints are the symptom that you’ve run wild. “They result from tired or inflexible calf muscles putting too much stress on tendons, which become strained and torn,” explains Ben Hobson, Digital Editor at Runners World.

Hence, if only last week you were Googling ‘how to start running’ but this, you’ve smashed out 10 miles with little or no recovery, you’ll feel it.

Other causes can include running on roads, stiff running trainers or running too regularly.

Anterior shin splints

There are two types – anterior shin splints, where the pain is on the outside of the shin, or medial shin splints, where it’s on the inside. The main shin splints symptoms are pain, pain and more pain. And maybe a bit of swelling. That’s it. The pain will typically ease when you’re inactive, then fire up as soon as you start exercising. Think of shin splints as the spoilsport at your gym – they hog the limelight and don’t play fair.

According to Tom Goom, a chartered physiotherapist at The Physio Rooms, because shin splints are typically an overuse injury, the best way to prevent them is to follow a sensible training programme that progresses gradually and incorporates rest days. However, there are also steps that you can take before, during and after your run to help minimise your risk of shin splints. Jog on.


Invest in a decent pair of trainers

When was the last time you updated your footwear? Chances are it wasn’t recently enough. “Trainer manufacturers usually suggest you change your shoes every 500 miles or two years,” says Chris Kay, director of the Bristol Physiotherapy Clinic. For example, running in the same pair you’ve owned for three years now isn’t going to do your shins any favours. “Shoes with extra cushioning and support may help prevent shin pain but everyone has different needs from a trainer, so seek advice from an expert running shop and try out several different pairs before you buy,” Goom says. Over-pronate? Make sure you pick a pair of trainers that will help realign your stride.

Warm up

Although your warm-up is unlikely to prevent shin splints – if you push your body too far, too soon, something will get irritated regardless – it will help increase circulation, which will, in turn loosen your muscles and prepare them for your run. Meaning less chance of injury. “Warming up your glutes and hamstrings is always a good place to begin,” says Kay. “These are the two muscle groups we often need to encourage to work when running. Do some squats and lunges, and just walk. Walking is a great way of getting everything working pre-run and if done uphill will really activate those glutes.”


It may seem like a boring waste of time but stretching post workout is a key player in preventing shin splints. Tight calf muscles can increase your risk of anterior shin splints, while a tight Achilles can lead to medial shin splints. Try the following stretches, from chartered physiotherapist and Run Ultra contributor, Karina Teahan, to ease out those problem areas:

  • Calf stretch – stride forward and stand, first with your back leg extended and both heels on the ground, hips tilting forward; then bring the back foot in slightly and bend the leg slightly at your knee.
  • Anterior shin stretch – kneel down on the floor then sit back on your heels, keeping your upper body lifted.


Choose your terrain

Like to pound the pavements? Swap your concrete surface for something softer like a park or playing field to reduce your likelihood of shin splints, suggests Kay. If there’s an obvious camber to the road, then make sure you run out and back on the same side.

Go steady

Sprinting may feel good but if you’re body isn’t ready to be pushed to its max, it’s going to find a way of slowing you down. Well hello shin splints. Follow Goom’s ratio of high- to low-intensity training: “If training for endurance, roughly 80% of your training time should be spent on low-intensity running with the remaining 20% spent on high-intensity running,” he says. “Factor in a recovery week, where you reduce your mileage, every fourth week and if you are new to running, or recovering from an injury, build up more slowly and include other types of exercise such as swimming and cycling in your exercise programme.”

Watch your distance

“Don’t increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% per week,” Goom says. Time to burn? “Support your running with training to strengthen the calf, quads and glutes, to improve the way the leg manages load,” Goom says.

Don’t forget technique

There’s more to running than just placing one foot in front of the other and according to Kay, making sure you’re doing it properly can help to prevent shin splints. “Improving your running technique will help to reduce the load going through the leg – overloading being one of the main causes of shin splints,” he says. Read Kay’s pointers for how to start running and nail your running technique every time.


Cool down

Prevent a build-up of toxic substances and lactic acid post run by cooling down afterwards. Removing these from the body will reduce your likelihood of experiencing muscular pain and stiffness. Happy days.

Stretch (again)

You did them at the start but stretching out troublesome calf muscles is equally as important after your run, too. Teahan suggests also massaging out the back of your legs using two tennis balls taped together, then running your calf over them – or simply buy one of the best foam rollers for workouts and injury prevention.

And strengthen

Strengthen the muscles in your legs and feet to assist your running technique and prevent shin splints. Teahon recommends the following exercises:

  • Walking on your heels – this will help strengthen the muscles down the front of your shin bone.
  • Calf raises – do these first, both feet at the same time, then standing on each foot separately.
  • Try to pick up a pen with your toes to strengthen your foot arches.
  • Trace the alphabet on the floor with your toes.


What to do when disaster strikes? Follow the RIP of injury management:


Call time on your exercise plans – temporarily. Shin splints symptoms need TLC so put your feet up and take it easy.


Ease any inflammation by applying ice packs to the shin splints area for 10 minutes or so every few hours.

Pain relief

Ibuprofen will not only banish any discomfort but will also help to manage inflammation.

Ants in your pants that just won’t go away? If taking time out from your exercise programme is not an option, at least switch your standard high-impact runs for lower intensity sessions on the cross trainer or do laps of your local pool. Then, when the pain has eased, return to your runs – gradually.

And if the pain doesn’t improve, your shin splint could in fact be a more serious condition such as a stress fracture, strain or tendon injury so seek medical advice.








Category: Marathon Advice, Running Advice, Running Advice/Tips

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