7 Ways to Prevent Shin Splints

woman running on road

Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries. The pain you'll feel with shin splints is usually on the front side of the shin (anterior shin splints) or on the back inside of the shin (posterior medial shin splints).

Shin splints are very common for beginner runners because they may do too much too soon when trying to build up their mileage. While shin splints are usually caused by tight calf muscles and weak shin muscles, other factors may aggravate the injury. Running on hard surfaces can put added strain on your front leg muscles. You may also overpronate (ankles roll in) or supinate (feet roll toward the outside edge) when you run, causing your front leg muscles to work harder to keep your feet stabilized. This biomechanical flaw may be made worse by a shoe with poor support. Another common cause is simply overtraining.


7 Ways to Prevent and Treat Shin Splints

There are a number of steps you can take to speed recovery. First, to reduce the pain, use an ice pack on your lower legs after you run. Keep ice on for ten to fifteen minutes every four to six hours, and make sure your foot is elevated.

Here are eight ways to prevent shin splints. If your pain persists, see your doctor about the possibility of a stress fracture.


Don't Increase Your Mileage Too Quickly

Shin splints are considered an overuse injury because they usually occur when runners (especially for those who are new to running) increase their mileage or intensity too quickly and do not allow for recovery time.

Cut back on your running and consider taking a few days off altogether. The important thing is not to run through the pain. Listen to your body and back off when you begin to feel pain. With all that extra downtime, you'll have plenty of opportunities to stretch your calves and strengthen your lower leg muscles. Be particularly careful not to overstretch; ease into your stretches gradually.


Run on Softer Surfaces When Possible

Running on hard surfaces, such as concrete, increases the stress and impact on your muscles, joints, and bones. It's important to vary your running surfaces. Try to find grass or dirt trails to run on, especially for your higher mileage runs. Running on a treadmill is actually easier on your body than running on the roads or sidewalks, so you may want to opt for treadmill runs one or two times a week.


Give Yourself Enough Rest and Recovery Time

When you first get started with running, try to avoid running two days in a row. A rest day will limit the pounding on your muscles, joints, and bones and give your body a chance to recover. Even if you're an experienced runner, taking at least one or two days off from running each week reduces your risk of shin splints and other overuse injuries.


Cross Train

Use some of your days off from running for rest. But on others, challenge your muscles with some cross-training activity. This could be low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming or biking. Or, incorporate strength training, which can help you run more efficiently.


Get the Right Running Shoes

Running in shoes that have lost their cushioning can lead to shin splints. You should replace your running shoes every 300 to 400 miles.

Wearing the wrong shoes may also lead to shin splints, so check your shoes to see if you might need more stability or cushioning. Get advice from an expert at a running specialty store to make sure you're wearing the right running shoes for your foot and gait. Don't be too intimidated to seek help from these experts. This is their job!

Also, try inserting over-the-counter shoe inserts so that your calves don't have to stretch as far. Finally, make sure that you have good running form. If you lean forward too much when you run, you may be pulling too hard on your calf muscles.​


Strength Training

If you experience shin pain when running, it may be because of weak anterior tibialis muscles, which are on the front side of your lower leg. This muscle is responsible for flexing the foot upward and, because it's often underdeveloped in non-runners, you may start feeling shin pain and develop shin splints if you're new to running or you increase your distance too quickly.

Doing simple exercises such as heel raises or toe raises can help strengthen your calf and shin muscles, which can help prevent shin pain. Doing these exercises post-run will also give you a nice stretch.

How to Do Toe Raises

Toe raises are very easy to do. You don't need any special equipment and you can do them anywhere. Do them a few times a week to develop your anterior tibialis muscles and prevent shin splints. Here's what to do:

  1. Stand upright on the edge of a step, with your toes hanging over the ledge.
  2. Hold onto a wall, railing, or chair for balance.
  3. Extend your toes as far out over the edge as you can. Only your heels should be on the edge.
  4. Pull your toes on your right foot upward toward your shins as far as you can and hold for a brief second, feeling the contraction in your shins (anterior tibialis).
  5. Release and slowly lower your toes to the starting position.
  6. Do the same thing with your left foot.
  7. Do two to three sets of 12 repetitions on each side.

Check Your Form

The middle of your foot is the best place to land when running. Ideally, you should land mid-sole and then roll through to the front of your toes. If you land on your heels, you're stopping your forward momentum and creating a lot of stress and impact on your lower legs, which can lead to shin splints.

Likewise, landing on your toes overworks your calf muscles, which can be another contributing factor to shin splints and other overuse injuries. If you are not sure whether your form is a factor in your shin pain, it might help to seek advice from a running coach.

Here are some ways you can try to avoid heel landing and toe running and practice landing on your mid-foot:

  • Most people will naturally land mid-sole when running without shoes, so try running on carpet, grass, or turf barefoot or in socks for short periods of time so your body can find its natural stride. Start with 30 seconds at first and work your way up to a minute or more. This doesn't mean you should run barefoot all the time since that could lead to injury. But running short intervals on a soft, safe surface allows you to practice mid-foot landing.
  • Another great way to practice mid-foot landing is by doing running drills such as butt kicks, skipping, high knees, running backward, or side shuffles. When you do any of those drills, it’s impossible to land on your heels. So, the more you practice them, the more you’ll be accustomed to landing on the front part of your foot, as opposed to your heel. You can do running drills as part of your pre-run warm-up or work them into your run. For example, you could intersperse 30-second intervals of high knees or backward running every 5-6 minutes during a 30-minute run.
  • Make sure that you don't lunge forward with your feet. This is especially important when running downhill when many runners have a tendency to overstride. Focus on landing mid-sole, with your foot directly underneath your body with every step. Keep your arm swing low and short, so your feet stay underneath you and close to the ground. Try to keep your steps light and quick, as if you're stepping on hot coals.

Stretch Your Calves

If you feel mild shin pain as you're running stop and do a quick calf stretch. If it's not mild pain or it's getting worse as you continue running, you should stop.

Also, make sure you're stretching your calves after your workouts. If your calves are really tight, massage them using a foam roller or other massage tool. Even just five minutes of self-massage after a run can make a big difference. Or treat yourself to a professional sports massage.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Shin Splints.

  2. Merck Manual Professional Version. Shin Splints.

  3. UpToDate. Overview of running injuries of the lower extremity.

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