Skip to content

What are Shin Splints and How Do You Prevent Them?

Cropped shot of a young man holding his ankle in pain while running.

When you’re in the midst of a fitness program, the very last thing you want is an injury. So when you start to feel that sharp pain in your shin, that front bone that runs down the center of your leg, you want to get rid of it as soon as possible. The first step in treating shin splints is to answer the question “What are shin splints?”.

We’ll cover everything you need to know about shin splints including how to prevent them from every being an interruption in your fitness training.

What are Shin Splints?

The term “shin splints” is actually just a descriptor of pain. The pain itself is caused by overuse, or a constant pulling and tugging of the muscles surrounding the tibia (the shin bone, in your lower leg), causing inflammation. 

What are shin splints which this female runner suffering from after running.
The Pain Is Recognized As A Tenderness, Soreness, Or Very Sharp And Specific Pain Along The Shin Bone (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Shin splints are common for runners, due to the constant stress on those muscles and bones. The pain is recognized as a tenderness, soreness, or very sharp and specific pain along the shin bone. You may even experience minor swelling in the area. 

While the injury might seem minor, it deserves attention and treatment. The pain can be intense, but what’s more worrisome is the potential for progression to a stress fracture. 

What Causes Shin Splints?

Shin splints, medically called medial tibial stress syndrome, are solely caused by the continuous stress on the shinbone, as well as the repetitive use and strain on the muscles attached to it.

Sportsman on starting position ready to run at the stadium.
Shin Splint Is Caused By Continuous Stress On The Shinbone (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Runners are the most common athletes to experience this kind of injury, but that doesn’t mean other exercises won’t cause it. Dancers and military trainees often have high rates of shin splint injuries. 

You don’t have to be an athlete to get shin splints. Simply increasing your activity levels too fast, or with too much intensity, can also lead to shin splints. Other risk factors include flat feet or high arches, running on uneven terrain or hard surfaces such as a road or concrete path.

You may even experience the pain of shin splints if you walk for extreme distances, especially if you have not built up to this routine. This is especially true if your shoes are unsupportive, don’t fit right, or aren’t right for the activity. 

There are certain underlying health risks that may also lead to injuries during exercise, especially injuries that are easily acquired, like shin splints. If you have an eating disorder or vitamin deficiency, especially a vitamin D deficiency, you are more likely to get shin splints. 

Bone deficiencies such as osteoporosis also place you in a greater risk category for a number of fitness injuries. 

How to Treat Shin Splints

Shin splints are one of the easiest injuries to get, especially if you are a runner or have recently increased the intensity of your fitness program. Luckily, because it is caused by inflammation, it’s an easily treatable injury.

Holding the blue ice pack on the painful ankle.
With Shin Splints, Rest And Ice Are The Best Treatments For Most People (Image Source: Shutterstock)

For most people with shin splints, rest and ice are the best treatments. A trainer or sports therapist might also suggest the use of pain relievers or anti-inflammatories. Consider either reducing your running pace, or slowing your training to where it was prior to your shin splint. 

If the pain is severe, it might be advised that you reduce or halt your training until your muscles have had enough time to recover. 

If this is a recurring injury, investigate the cause. It may not be an overuse injury at that point. It could also be a vitamin deficiency, your shoes, or even the surface you’re running on. 

How to Prevent Shin Splints

Have had shin splints and never want to get them again? Or, trying to avoid injury altogether? Luckily, injuries are preventable, especially shin splints.

How to Fix Shin Splints (Yourself)

There are several things you can do to prevent shin splints. Avoiding overwork, especially if you have not built up to these exercises, is one of the best things you can do to protect your shins. Running or exercising for too long, with a lot of intensity, strains your body too much. It can overload your shins as well as other muscles and bones. 

Another important tip is to use proper form for all of your movements. If your feet are repeatedly landing awkwardly on the pavement, you’re bound to strain muscles and joints in ways they aren’t meant to be strained. The pavement can also put too much strain on your heels. Consider getting shock-absorbing insoles to protect your heels and the connected tissues. 

Choose the right shoes for your feet and activity. If you run, but also lift weights, do yoga, etc. get shoes for each separate activity. The way your body moves during each activity affects the wear on your shoe’s soles as well as the fit of your fit in the shoe. This, in turn, affects how your feet land when you run.

Also, pay attention to the wear on your shoes. Replace them after 500 miles, or every 6 months if you run regularly. These women’s nike shoes are some of the best at supporting runner’s feet in the right places. If you have flat feet, additional arch support inserts for your shoes maybe your best option. 

Exercises and Stretches to Prevent Shin Splints

Cross-training with other sports can help reduce overuse injuries like shin splints. If you’re a runner, adding swimming and biking to your regimen is a great way to diversify your training.

Man in sports clothing stretching while warming up outdoors.
Helps To Reduce Over Train, And Ensure That All Of Your Muscles Are Capable Of Supporting Your Body (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Add a full-body strength workout, running exercises, and stability movements into the mix to help stabilize all of the muscles in your body. This helps to reduce overtrain, and ensure that all of your muscles are just as capable of supporting your body, no matter which direction you turn in. Even stretches for hip flexors can help your body remain stable and flexible for intense running.

Shin splints can derail your training, and can be quite painful. Luckily, they’re easy to treat with ice and rest. If you don’t have them yet, you can keep your training on the right track by taking the right precautions and building a progressive training program that slowly builds up intensity.