8 Ways to Prevent Shin Splints When Running

New runners are at highest risk

woman running on road
Verywell

Shin splints, medically known as "medial tibial stress syndrome," are one of the most common running injuries. Other sports where shin splits can be common are any that require vigorous activity, such as soccer, basketball, or sprinting.

The pain you feel with shin splints is usually on the front side of the shin (anterior shin splints) or the back inside of the shin (posterior medial shin splints). While this injury is not unusual, especially in new runners, there are steps you can take to prevent shin splints.

Causes of Shin Splints

The pain you feel from shin splints is due to inflammation of the muscles and tendons in the lower legs. Certain activities put you at greater risk of developing shin splints.

  • High impact activities: Running on hard or inclined surfaces can put added strain on your front leg muscles.
  • Incorrect technique: 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 stabilize your feet. This biomechanical issue may be made worse by a shoe with poor support.
  • Overuse: Shin splints are very common for beginner runners because they may do too much too soon to build up their mileage.
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How to Prevent and Treat Shin Splints

Treatment

There are several steps you can take to speed recovery from shin splints. First, to reduce the pain, use an ice pack on your lower legs after you run. Keep an ice pack on the leg for 20 minutes several times throughout the day. Wrap the ice in a towel; do not allow it to directly touch the skin.

Experts also suggest that you use compression gear (such as compression bandages or compression socks) to reduce swelling and consider taking an anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Speak to your healthcare provider about taking medications to relieve pain or reduce swelling.

Prevention

Once you've successfully treated shin splints (or better yet, before the condition even develops), it's crucial to prevent them from reoccurring. Here are eight ways to avoid or reduce your risk for shin splints. If your pain persists, see a healthcare provider; shin splints that don't heal can cause a stress fracture.

1

Gradually Increase Mileage

Shin splints are overuse injuries because they usually occur when runners (mainly those new to running) increase their mileage or intensity too quickly and do not allow enough recovery time.

The important thing is not to run through pain. Listen to your body and cut back on running when you feel pain. Don't return to running until you have been pain-free for two weeks.

2

Run on Softer Surfaces

Running on hard surfaces, such as concrete, can put a lot of extra stress on your muscles, joints, and bones. It's important to vary your running surfaces.

Try running on grass or dirt trails, especially if you're planning a longer run. You may want to opt for a treadmill run once or twice a week. Running on a treadmill is easier on your body than running on the roads or sidewalks.

3

Take Time to Rest

When you're starting out, 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.

4

Cross Train

Use some of your days off from running for rest. But for others, consider cross-training with a sport that puts less pressure on your shins. This could be any low-impact aerobic exercises, such as swimming, biking, cross country skiing, or aqua jogging.

5

Get the Right Running Shoes

Wearing the wrong shoes can also cause shin splints, so check your shoes to see if you might need more stability or cushion.

Get advice from an expert at a running specialty store to make sure you're wearing the right running shoes. Running experts can examine your gait, the structure of your feet, and the wear on your current running shoes to help you find the best fit.

Also, replace your running shoes every 350 to 500 miles. Running in shoes that have lost their cushioning is one of the most common causes of shin splints. You can also use over-the-counter shoe inserts so that your calves don't have to stretch as far.

6

Try Strength Training

If you experience shin pain when running, it may be because of weak anterior tibialis muscles. These muscles run along the front side of your lower leg and are responsible for flexing the foot at the ankle. You may start feeling pain in this area if you're new to running or if you increase your distance too quickly.

Doing simple stretching 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

You don't need any special equipment to do toe raises. Do them a few times a week to develop your anterior tibialis muscles and prevent shin splints.

  1. Remove your shoes.
  2. Stand upright on the edge of a step, with your toes hanging over the edge.
  3. Hold onto a wall, railing, or chair for balance.
  4. Extend your toes as far out over the edge as you can. Only your heels should be on the step.
  5. 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).
  6. Release and slowly lower your toes to the starting position.
  7. Do the same thing with your left foot.
  8. Do two to three sets of 12 repetitions on each side.

How to Do Heel Raises

You can do heel raises with or without shoes on. Depending on how flexible the soles of your shoes are, they may make this exercise harder or easier.

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart.
  2. Hold on to a chair or wall for support.
  3. Lift the heels off the floor and hold for two counts. You'll feel the gastrocnemius (calf muscle) tighten.
  4. Slowly lower and repeat.

To increase strength and stability, you can also do heel raises one leg at a time.

7

Check Your Form

Changing your footstrike may help you to avoid shin splints. Try to avoid heel striking or toe running. Instead, try to land on the middle of the foot. Ideally, you should land mid-sole and then roll through and push off through the toes.

While the practice is common, landing on your heels can cause stress in the lower leg. Similarly, landing on your toes can stress the gastrocnemius (calf muscle). Both of these footstrike patterns can contribute to shin splints and other injuries.

Use these tips to practice landing on your mid-foot:

  • Monitor your form. Keep your arm swing low and short so your feet stay underneath you and close to the ground. You don't want to feel like your feet are reaching too far in front with every step (called overstriding). Try to keep your steps light and quick, as if you're stepping on hot coals.
  • Run barefoot. Consider running on grass, turf, or even carpet in socks or without shoes for short periods. When you run barefoot, you are more likely to land on the middle of the foot, so this practice may help you find a healthier footstrike pattern. Start with 30 second-intervals and work your way up to a minute or more.
  • Practice drills. Running drills can help you to practice mid-foot landing. You can incorporate butt kicks, high knees, side shuffles, or backward running into your warm-up. These movements encourage mid-foot striking.

If you are unsure whether your form is a factor in your shin pain, it might help to work with a running coach who can evaluate your form and provide advice.

8

Stretch Your Calves

If you feel mild shin pain while running, stop and do a quick calf stretch. If the pain is not mild, or gets worse as you continue running, you should stop.

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

A Word From Verywell

Shin splints can be a painful and debilitating condition and they are common for new runners in particular. Preventing shin splints is the best course of action since they can develop into more serious issues. It's wise to ensure your running form is correct and you have supportive shoes. Don't push too quickly to advance your running speed or distance.

Try the above recommendations to help prevent shin splints. If you feel any discomfort or pain in spite of these strategies, discuss it with a healthcare provider.

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3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Diseases and conditions: Shin splints.

  2. Merck Manual Professional Version. Shin splints.

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

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