8 Ways to Prevent Shin Splints

woman running on road
Verywell

Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries. The pain you 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 can be caused by any number of factors, including:

  • 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 keep your feet stabilized. 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 when trying to build up their mileage.
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How 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 an ice pack on the leg for 20 minutes several times throughout the day. Wrap the ice in a towel so that it does not 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.

Once you've successfully treated your shin splints, it's important to prevent them from reoccurring. Here are eight ways to prevent or reduce your risk for shin splints. If your pain persists, see your doctor about the possibility of a stress fracture.

1

Gradually Increase Mileage

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.

The important thing is not to run through the pain. Listen to your body and cut back on running when you begin to feel pain. Medical experts suggest that you should not 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 first 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 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 lead to 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 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 try inserting 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, which run along the front side of your lower leg. This muscle is responsible for flexing the foot at the ankle (drawing the toes toward your knee). You may start feeling pain in this area 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 edge.
  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.

How to Do Heel Raises

To do heel raises:

  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, heel raises can also be done 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 and 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 front of 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 over striding). 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 of time. 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 not sure whether your form is a factor in your shin pain, it might help to work with a coach who can evaluate your form and provide advice.

8

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.

Make sure you're also 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
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. Alaia MJ. Diseases & Conditions: Shin Splints. OrthoInfo. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Reviewed August 2019.

  2. Shin Splints. Merck Manual Professional Version.

  3. Callahan LR. Overview of running injuries of the lower extremity. UpToDate. Updated May 28, 2020.

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