Best Ways to Treat and Prevent Shin Splints

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Shin splints are uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes, downright frustrating.

Perhaps you’ve been experiencing shin splint pain a few minutes into running or after intense athletic activity. Occasionally, they may even cause you to halt your activity altogether. Whatever the aggravating factor is, you’re fed up.

So, how can you treat and prevent shin splints from happening? We’ll get to the bottom of it, but first let’s take a closer look at the causes of shin splint pain.

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Shin Splints?

The term ‘shin splints’ essentially labels pain felt on the front of the shin bone. Shin splints and running for longer durations or at higher intensities are than the individual is used to are frequently linked. The condition is also sometimes referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome.

Symptoms of shin splints include:

  • Pain along the tibia or shin bone.
  • Tenderness along the tibia or shin bone.
  • Swelling in the lower leg.
  • Redness on the lower leg (in some cases).
  • Bumps along the front of the lower leg (in some cases).

Shin splint pain often arises during exercise, but subsides after the activity is discontinued. They are thought to happen from repeated stress on the legs, with shin splints from walking or running frequently cited. This continued stress causes inflammation in the connective tissues of the lower legs, which is why it becomes painful and tender.

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How to Treat Shin Splints

If you’re currently experiencing pain, the best thing you can do for shin splints treatment is rest and ice your shins. Over-the-counter medication, such as anti-inflammatories, may also help alleviate your symptoms. However, these medications shouldn’t be taken in the long-term. Thus, a better solution is shin splint exercises.

You can stretch and strengthen around the shin, calf area and gluteal muscles to help ease current discomfort and prevent shin splints from arising in the future. Two shin stretches that may relieve your pain include the following:

1. The Calf Stretch

  • Sit in a chair.
  • Wrap a towel around the bottom of your foot and toes.
  • Straighten your leg and plant your heel.
  • Pull your foot toward you using the towel.
  • Hold for about 20-30 seconds.
  • Repeat 2-3 times for each leg.

2. The Anterior Shin Stretch

  • Sit in a chair.
  • Wrap a towel around the bottom of your foot and toes.
  • Straighten your leg and plant your heel.
  • Use the towel to pull your foot inward and up.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds.
  • Do the same but pull your foot upward and out.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds.
  • Repeat 2-3 times for each leg.

Strengthening the calf may also help with shin splints treatment. To strengthen the calf, stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly rise up onto your toes, then slowly lower. Do 10-12 repetitions and 2-3 sets. Once this shin splints exercise becomes easy, advance to performing this movement while balancing on one leg. Just make sure to do the exercise on both legs when performing the advanced version.

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Preventing Shin Splints

Wear the proper footwear to avoid shin splints from walking or running

The right shoes can make all the difference when it comes to how to not get shin splints. For example, make sure you’re wearing shoes made for running long distances if that is what activity you choose to partake in and make sure it is the proper type of shoe (neutral, stability or flexible) for your foot. A physical therapist can help you decide which type of shoe is best for you!

Try arch supports or orthotics

Everything in the body is connected. Collapsed foot arches may increase your risk of shin splints from walking, running, or other types of movement. For this reason, consider getting fitted for orthotics or purchasing arch supports. A physical therapist or exercise specialist may be able to help you determine what you need.

How to avoid shin splints by increasing your activity gradually

If you’re just beginning to increase your running distance or intensity, do so gradually. Add only small increments at a time. Allow an adequate duration, such as a couple weeks, to let your body get used to the new intensity or distance before increasing these factors again. This will help you with shin splints prevention.

Run on soft surfaces

Avoid running on hard pavement every time or try performing a cross-training activity. For example: If you run, try mixing it up with cycling to decrease the stress on your shins.

Shin splints pain doesn’t have to mean the end of your chosen activity. There are ways to remedy and prevent them. If you’ve tried everything and are still struggling, consider booking an appointment with a physical therapist that can provide the best guidance on how to avoid shin splints and provide treatment recommendations. You no longer need a prescription from a medical doctor to see a physical therapist via direct access. Use the BetterPT website or download the app to help find and book a physical therapist near you that can help with your shin splints recovery!

Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her bachelor's degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. Marla has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.

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