The Best Way To Prevent Painful Shin Splints Before They Start

Written by: Chris

Updated on:

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Shin splints oftentimes sideline even many seasoned runners and can be among the most nagging of running injuries. Medically-classified as tibial stress syndrome, an athlete’s running form is one key mechanics indicator to predict their susceptibility to acquiring shin splints.

When they occur, shin splints may target the limb’s interior region; the front part just below the knee.

Or, the pain may be posterior in nature, causing discomfort along the leg’s inside edge.

Shin splints cause tenderness and soreness in these areas, with pain and sometimes some mild swelling. Initially this will stop when you stop exercising, but if left untreated the pain can progress and become continuous, resulting in stress fractures and reactions.

In many cases, this condition – caused by inflammation of the fascia, or soft connective tissue attached to the tibia -can mask more serious, underlying damage such as:

  • A bone-related stress fracture
  • Poor circulation in the lower extremity (compartment syndrome)
  • An actual separation of connective tissue from the tibia

Poor Running Form Could be the cause

According to “Chi Running” creator, and running body posture guru Danny Dreyer, the root causes of shin splint running injuries fall within two major categories.

The first being so simple – not stretching and warming up prior to a run. There’s no excuse to skip a warm-up. If you haven’t got time to warm up, you haven’t got time to run (and we know there’s always time!).

Second is access impact to the runner’s lower legs due to heel-striking. Dreyer points out that this typically occurs due to these running injury-inducers:

  • Running in old, worn out shoes
  • Landing repeatedly upon your heels
  • Prolonged downhill running
  • Treadmill running (Any health club runners reading this?)
  • Running on unstable surfaces like sand or snow

Joggers running together over a bridge

Dreyer mentions on his blog that a runner’s form should ideally incorporate a style where they lean forward slightly, from their ankles, as they run.

Overuse of the lower legs caused by a repetitive ‘toe-pushing’ running form. This happens commonly when runners, especially ‘newbies’, try to run too far and/or too fast when initiating a running program.

In those instances, a runner’s calf and shin muscles are not yet conditioned sufficiently to take the repetitive pounding caused by their body’s weight. Toe-pushing results, as the legs over-compensate for muscle weakness.

Prevention Starts with Your Shoes And Running Form

Prevention is always better than cure. Replace your running shoes every 300-500 miles to reduce shin splint risk. Additionally, avoid shin splints in the first place by:

  • Utilizing ankle and lower leg strengthening exercises.
  • Analyzing your stride for any heel-strike or over-striding tendencies.
  • Using devices such as resistance bands to strengthen lower leg muscles.

A female running suffering with a shin injury

Treatment for shin splints

Despite our efforts, some of us will still fall victim to shin splints. Knowing how to treat them is important so that you can be up and running again sooner.

The most important is probably the most testing for those who hate taking a break from running – and that is to give it time. Shin splits will need a break from running for a few days to rest the afflicted tissue.

If you want to maintain exercise in other forms (which we’d always recommend), you need to consider ways that will keep your shin out of the heavy loading – such as swimming, or perhaps a bike ride or gentle cross-training.

You should also:

  • Icing your shins to reduce tissue inflammation. Do this for 20 minutes, 3-4 times per day.
  • Wrapping your leg, from just above the ankle to just below the knee, with an ACE bandage or athletic tape before you run.
  • Replacing worn running shoes with new and appropriate ones.
  • Stretching your calf muscles and Achilles tendons regularly; especially prior to a run.
  • Evaluating, monitoring, and adjusting your running form.

A runner stretching out the legs before a run in the park

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