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shin splints

9 Ways to Prevent Shin Splints When Running

  • Last Updated: 16th June 2021
  • Running

If you’ve ever experienced shin splints when running, you’ll know how painful they can be and how much they can hinder your running performance. 

That’s why we’ve rounded up our top tips for avoiding shin splints, as well as the best ways of treating shin splints from running.

Keep reading if you’re looking for some simple solutions to help you keep running pain free!

In this article, we will cover:

If you like running and fitness, why not turn your passion into a rewarding career through a personal training course with OriGym? Check out our full range of courses by downloading our free prospectus here

What Are Shin Splints?

running shin splints

Also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), the term shin splints refers to pain, tenderness, and sometimes swelling along the front of the lower leg where the shin bone is situated. In severe cases you may feel lumps along the bone or red patches on the skin.

There are several varied opinions from medical experts about what causes shin splints when running, but it’s mostly agreed that it is the result of excessive force being exerted on the shin bone and surrounding tissues.

Getting shin pain when running is very common amongst runners, especially beginners, whose muscles and bones are not yet conditioned to deal with the stress of high-impact exercise. If you’re new to running, our list of the best running apps for beginners will give you some motivation to get started!

There is also a link between shin splints and knee pain when running. Adding too much force to the body too quickly during exercise puts excessive stress on the legs. This causes the muscles and connective tissues to swell and become inflamed, leading to increased pressure against the shin bone. 

If you suffer from knee pain, you might want to read our guide to the best knee compression sleeves to see how they could help!

Shin pain when running can also be caused by stress reactions to bone fractures, which is when excessive pressure causes small cracks in the bones of the legs. This therefore causes the shins to hurt after running. 

How To Avoid Shin Splints When Running

If you’re wondering how to prevent shin splints, then keep reading for our top tips on form, technique and recovery! For more tips on running form in general, check out our tips for improving running technique.

#1 Gradually increase the intensity of your runs

shins hurt after running

If you’re a beginner runner and your shins hurt after running, don’t worry, this is completely normal. Shin splints from running are very common amongst beginners, as they tend to overdo it when just starting out.

Beginners often increase the amount that they are running too quickly which overloads the muscles. Since the muscles are not used to so much stress, this can cause excessive pressure to be placed upon the shin bone. 

As a general rule, you should aim to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10%. This is optimal for seeing progress whilst avoiding shin splints and other overuse injuries.

If you’re struggling with how to stop shin splints when running as a beginner, then why not consider using Couch to 5K?

Couch to 5K is a running programme designed to help you build up your mileage, fitness levels and endurance, as well as getting you used to running. You can download Couch to 5K as an app or podcast, which gives you 3 runs a week over a 9-week period. 

There is also a Couch to 5K forum online, where you can chat, share your progress, and discuss tips with fellow beginner runners! In fact, there is a whole world of running forums, message boards and chat rooms out there which are great for beginners. 

This helps to gradually ease you into running, ensuring that you do not overload your body and end up running with shin splints!

#2 Vary the surfaces that you run on to avoid shin splints 

shins hurt when running

If you find yourself with recurring shin splints from running, it may be time to change up where you run!

Always running on hard surfaces such as concrete or tarmac puts extra strain on the muscles within the leg, as well as on the bones and joints. 

This increases the amount of force that the muscles have to absorb. As well as leading to muscle fatigue, this can result in shin pain from running, as well as other overuse injuries.

To avoid this, try mixing it up by running on grass or dirt trails, or even considering running on a treadmill once or twice a week. Have a look at OriGym’s list of the best treadmills here if you want to add a treadmill session into your running routine. 

The softer surface will be much easier on your body, will put less stress on your muscles, and is less likely to lead to the inflammation that causes shin splints.

#3 Practice proper running form to prevent shin splints

running through shin splints

Shin splints can be caused by landing on your heels or toes when running, which puts more stress on your shins.

It is therefore important to implement proper running form to prevent shin splints. You can do this by altering your foot strike and landing on the middle of your foot.

This ensures that the shock is distributed evenly across your foot when it hits the ground, which lowers the impact that is absorbed by your lower legs. 

A great way to practice this running technique for shin splints prevention is to try running barefoot as you are much more likely to land on the middle of your foot. 

Thinking about trying barefoot running? You might want to consider buying some of these barefoot running socks to help your form!

You should also try to increase your cadence (the number of steps you take per minute). This will help you to avoid recurring shin splints when running, as your steps will be quicker and lighter and you will therefore be putting less load on your feet, legs and knees. Check out our article on running cadence here for more on why it matters and how to increase it!

#4 Try cross training 

recurring shin splints running

As already discussed, overtraining can cause recurring shin splints when running, so why not consider swapping some of your running sessions for a lower intensity form of exercise?

Swimming, cycling and even yoga are all great options to consider if you’re experiencing shin pain after running. Not only are you getting to experience a new sport, but performing at a lower intensity also helps to relieve some of the pressure on your body, whilst still providing you with the benefits of regular exercise!

For instance, performing yoga can make you much more flexible. This will improve your range of motion, which helps to improve running technique for shin splints and makes you less prone to injury. Not to mention the mental health benefits you’re set to gain from such a relaxing practice! 

Read more about the benefits of flexibility training here.

#5 Incorporate strength training into your routine

shin pain running not shin splints

It’s often wrongly assumed that strengthening the tibialis anterior - the muscle that runs down the front of the shin - is useful when trying to avoid shin splints from running.

However, the tibialis anterior is only a small muscle. If you’re wondering how to avoid shin splints when running, then the best way is to strengthen the bigger muscle groups. These include the calves, hips, glutes and abductor muscles. 

As the largest muscle group in the lower leg, strengthening the calf muscles will provide more support for the tibialis anterior, therefore stabilising it more effectively when it makes impact with the ground during a run. 

Also, strengthening the gluteal muscles will help to ensure proper running form to prevent shin splints, as this creates strength and stability around the hips.

A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that weak hip abductors are a significant predictor for exertional medial tibial pain (EMTP), which links them with an increased chance of getting shin splints from running. 

Another study found that increased range of motion in the hips during landing and push off are predictive causes for the development of EMTP. This is because weaker hips have an increased range of motion, meaning an impaired ability to maintain joint stability. This therefore places more pressure on the shins.

To avoid running with shin splints, you should therefore incorporate at least one strength training session a week into your routine. Try exercises such as calf raises to strengthen your calf muscles, and grab a resistance band to perform hip thrusts, glute bridges, crab walks and clamshells to improve your glute and hip abductor strength.

If you like running, we think you’ll love these articles too:

#6 Wear insoles to treat shin splints from running 

running form shin splints

You’re much more likely to get shin splints from running if you have either flat feet or high arches, which is why you should consider wearing insoles in your running shoes.

Insoles work by providing a cushion between your feet and the sole of your shoe, which helps to absorb the shock from the impact of your feet on the ground. This shifts the distribution of the pressure on the bottom of your foot, and protects the shins and heels from the force exerted through running. 

Be sure to choose insoles that fit your feet perfectly, otherwise they will not provide the support necessary to avoid shin splints. 

Another thing to note is that in order for your insoles to provide proper structural support, they should be firm and flexible, rather than soft and comfortable.

#7 Choose the right running shoes

treating shin splints from running

Although insoles are a useful tool, they won’t help your shin splints or running form if you’re wearing the wrong shoes for your feet!

If you’re unsure of which shoes are right for you, it’s always a good idea to ask running experts for help, as they can analyse your feet and recommend the correct fit for your pronation type. Or, check out OriGym’s list of the best cushioned running shoes for the top supportive shoes on the market. 

Pronation is the way in which your foot rolls inwards as it strikes the floor and is how your body distributes impact when walking and running.

Understanding your pronation type is therefore crucial when preventing and treating shin splints from running. Many companies that sell running shoes offer a gait analysis service, which tests how you run and can help you to identify your pronation type.

In each case you will require a different type of running shoe if you hope to maintain proper running form to prevent shin splints. The different types of gait are:

  • Neutral gait: This is when your foot lands on its outer edge and rolls inwards in a controlled way, which evenly distributes your weight across the foot and helps to absorb any shock. 
  • Overpronation: This is the most common type of gait and is seen in runners with low arches or flat feet. The foot rolls inwards excessively, which transfers weight to the inner edge of the foot instead of the centre. 
  • Supination or underpronation: This is when the outer side of the foot strikes the ground at a steeper than normal angle, and there is little movement inward. This sends a shock through the lower leg for runners with high arches, meaning that they are more likely to experience sore shins when running.

If you’re wondering how to prevent shin splints when running, another thing to note is that you should replace old running shoes. This is because running in shoes that are compressed and have lost their cushioning can cause shin splints, as they may no longer be absorbing any impact from the ground. 

Depending on what kind of running you do, there are specific styles of shoe that suit each type. If you run a lot of marathons, for example, you might want to check out our list of the best long distance and marathon running shoes!

#8 Practice stretching to avoid shin splints

shin splints and knee pain when running

Stretching is important in preventing injuries when completing any type of exercise as it allows the joints to move through a full range of motion, which improves muscle flexibility.

This helps to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after running and reduces the risk of muscle strain, as well as treating shin splints from running.

It’s therefore especially important to stretch the calf and hamstring muscles if your shins hurt when running. 

Your shins are forced to overcompensate for particularly short or tight calf muscles, meaning that more pressure is placed on them and you are more at risk of getting shin splints. Stretching regularly can help to lengthen the calf muscles and relieve this tightness.

A great way to stretch your calf muscles is to start by facing a wall, placing one foot approximately a shoulder’s width in front of the other. Slightly bending your front knee and keeping your back leg straight, you should then place your hands on the wall and push against it.

If performed correctly, you should now feel a stretch through your back calf. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, then make sure to swap legs.

The general rule of thumb is to do static stretches before your run and dynamic stretches afterwards. Although both are beneficial and important in avoiding shin splints, there are many other benefits to dynamic stretching, such as increasing blood flow and improving performance. 

#9 Allow sufficient time for recovery to avoid shin pain after running

how to stop shin splints when running

As already discussed, the main cause of shin splints when running is excessive force caused by running too far, too fast, or too often.

It is therefore important to ensure that you are taking enough time to rest between your training sessions. You shouldn’t be running 7 days a week!

Taking time to rest is crucial, especially if you’re working on avoiding shin splints, as this is when most of your muscle growth and recovery happens. Your body takes the chance to repair any small muscle tears that you may have incurred whilst running, so if you fail to rest, then there is more chance of these tears progressing into bigger injuries.

If you do feel up to exercising, then you could complete an active recovery workout, such as yoga, swimming or some gentle walking. This will help to maintain a good blow flow to your muscles, reducing lactic acid build up and preventing soreness whilst you recover from a more intense form of exercise. Yin yoga is a particularly good activity for a rest day as it is super low intensity whilst giving your muscles a deep stretch.  

Read more about the importance of rest days in our article here.

FAQs

Should you run through shin splints?

In most cases, you can technically run through shin splints. Some medical experts even suggest that running through mild shin splints can help the body to adapt, preventing you from getting them in the future!

However, we would not advise you to go running with shin splints, even if you are only in mild discomfort to begin with.

If you continue running through shin splints, the initial pain that you experience can develop into a more intense burning sensation. Not only will your shins hurt when running, but also during lower intensity activities, such as walking. 

This is because running with recurring shin splints is likely to prolong your injury, as the injured tissue is not being given a chance to heal, and the shin bone continues to be put under pressure. In extreme cases, this could even lead to a tibial stress fracture, which would leave you in constant pain and could prevent you from running for an even longer period.

Also remember that you can get shin pain when running that is not shin splints. This type of pain can often be mistaken for other more serious conditions such as tendonitis, sprains, fractures or even an Achilles tendon rupture, all of which you should definitely not run with!

As we have already suggested, you should instead consider resting or trying a gentler form of exercise such as yoga or pilates. If you are new to these kinds of exercises, our article on the differences between pilates and yoga will answer all your questions!

How long do shin splints from running last?

avoid shin splints running

Depending on how severe your shin splints are, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for the tibia bone to fully heal.

The general guideline is that you should not return to running after shin splints until you have been free from pain for at least 2 weeks. If the pain returns, you should immediately stop running and seek medical advice before starting again. 

When you do return to running after shin splints, it’s vital that you increase your mileage slowly, and follow the rest of our tips on how to prevent shin splints when running again!

It might also be safer to avoid running downhill when returning to running after shin splints, as it can be particularly tough on the shins and calf muscles. But if you do feel rested and recovered, have a read of our tips for running downhill before you set off! 

Although you may feel fully healed, it’s important that you check for tenderness in the affected area every so often, which will help you to catch any signs of your shin splints returning before they become a real issue. 

How should you treat shin splints from running?

When treating shin splints from running, the best way to help immediately is to use the RICE technique, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation of the leg.

As we have already discussed, rest is perhaps the most important part of the technique as this is when your legs have a chance to heal and recover.

When resting immediately after running, you should place an ice pack wrapped in a towel onto your shins for up to 20 minutes, approximately every 2 to 3 hours, whilst ensuring that your leg is elevated. This technique will help to decrease the swelling of the muscles and can prevent further inflammation of the connective tissues.

Wearing compression bandages or socks around the calves will help to improve blood flow and circulation in your legs, which should also help to reduce any swelling. 

If you’re looking for immediate ways to treat shin pain after running, you could take painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. However, this should only be a short-term solution and you should seek medical advice if the pain persists. 

If you have shin splints or just sore legs in general, foam rolling is a great way to ease muscle pain. Check out OriGym’s list of the best foam rollers here!

How can you prevent shin splints from running on a treadmill?

how to prevent shin splints

Although you can get shin splints from running outside, most people complain of shin pain after running on a treadmill.

This is because the accelerated motion of running on a treadmill actually mimics the action of running downhill. As your heel hits the treadmill, it is dragged backwards and pulls your foot onto the belt.

This action requires a high level of strength in the anterior shin and surrounding muscles, which explains why many people running with shin splints get them through training on the treadmill.

If you’re wondering how to stop shin splints when running on a treadmill, the best thing to do is to run on a slight incline. This will counteract the feeling that you are running downhill, and if you vary the incline over the course of your session, will mimic outdoor running more closely. 

If used correctly, there are actually plenty of benefits to running on a treadmill

Before You Go!

Being in pain whilst running can not only impact your form and technique, but also your motivation to continue running and reach your goals.

So if you’re wanting to remain pain free and achieve that runner’s high, then remember our tips for preventing shin splints!

If all this talk of running has inspired you to start a career in fitness, OriGym’s industry-leading personal training course could be for you! Alternatively, check out our free downloadable prospectus to see the full range of courses we offer. 

References

  • Ruth Verrelst et.al., ‘The Role of Hip Abductor and External Rotator Muscle Strength in the Development of Exertional Medial Tibial Pain: A Prospective Study’, in British Journal of Sports Medicine, (Nov 2014, Vol. 48, 21), pp.1564-1569
  • Ruth Verrelst et.al., ‘The Role of Proximal Dynamic Joint Stability in the Development of Exertional Medial Tibial Pain: A Prospective Study’, in British Journal of Sports Medicine, (March 2014, Vol. 48, 5), pp.388-393

Written by Alice Williams

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Alice is a content writer at OriGym. With a first-class degree in French and Linguistics, she loves all things language, fitness and culture. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

When she’s not writing, you can usually find Alice practicing yoga and she hopes to one day become a yoga instructor herself. She also loves running, tennis and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! It was this passion for health and fitness, combined with her love for writing, that brought Alice to OriGym.

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