Shin Splints Beware: What Are They and How to Prevent Them

As the weather gets warmer and gyms are being forced to shut their doors for the time being, members are taking to the trails (or sidewalks) as a way to keep up their fitness. However, after months of being stuck inside a gym due to the colder weather, most athletes are not prepared to jump right back in to running several miles at a time; and without the proper form and training, many athletes often develop the common condition of shin splints. So, before you hit the road to PR your 5k time, here are some things you need to know about shin splints and some steps to take in preventing them.

The most common indicator of shin splints is aching or throbbing pain in your shins after sprints or a daily run. The term ‘shin splints’ actually refers to bone-related shin pain and muscular shin pain. Bone-related shin pain can be a stress injury (irritation of the bone) or more severely, a stress fracture (an actual crack in the bone). Bone-related shin pain can be the result of three variables: body mechanics, amount of activity, and bone density. The less common muscular shin pain, often known as Exertional Compartment Syndrome (ECS), is characterized by a tightening in the shins that increases only during exercise. 

The different methods of treating shin splints are related to whether they are bone or muscular-related. If you think your shin splints are bone-related, it’s important to see a doctor for the correct diagnosis. Also, letting your legs rest by finding other activities, such as swimming or stationary biking, is important for the healing process. If your shin splints are muscle-related, try foam-rolling your shins and calves. Part of the problem with ECS is tight fascia, which is the tough tissue that encircles most of our muscles. Using a foam roller for several minutes, several times a day, can help to loosen up this tissue and therefore relieve any discomfort. 

However, there are ways that you can be proactive to prevent shin splints in the first place. Here are just a few: 

  • Use a shoe that limits pronation (limits the roll of the foot as it strikes the ground) or invest in a pair of arch supports.
  • Strengthen your hips and core muscles. Improving these two areas can make you a better runner by improving your foot strike and overall body mechanics. 
  • Be cautious when increasing your total weekly running mileage. You shouldn’t increase it by more than 10% each week.
  • You may need to shorten your running stride while simultaneously increasing your running cadence. This can help you achieve better running mechanics because you will be putting less load on your feet, shins, knees, and up the kinetic chain. As a reference: count your foot strikes on one side for 1 minute. A good number to shoot for is 85 to 90 strikes of one foot per minute. 
  • Try stretching out your calf muscles using the seven stretches described in this article: