Sore Shins Got You Down? How to Get Rid of Shin Splints For Good

by Jason Fitzgerald

Shin splints are a tricky injury to discuss.  There’s no clear cure and every runner will respond differently to various treatment options.  I’m even hesitant to call shinsplints an “injury” – sore shins simply don’t qualify in my book.  Shinsplints are more like persistent soreness.  Since they can often significantly limit your training, I want to discuss how to get rid of shin splints and also how to prevent them before you have sore shins.

Most of the time, shin splints affect new runners or those who don’t run consistently.  If you’re just starting up or find yourself taking long breaks in between training blocks, you’re at an increased risk for this annoying little injury.

Shin splints are essentially a nagging soreness caused by too much stress to the shin muscles.  Runners report pain on both the anterior and interior of the tibia – basically, both sides of the shin bone.  I had severe shin splints when I first started running.  Curiously, I only had sore shins when I was running a fast workout on the track.

A great definition and list of shin splints causes can be found on Wikipedia.  I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here.

What I want to do is take a running-specific look at how to get rid of shinsplints through changes in your training.  Small changes can make a big difference when it comes to your susceptibility to shin splints and other injuries.

How to Get Rid of Shin splints: Your Treatment Plan

There are several reasons why you may be getting shin splints so one of these treatment options may not work for you.  My recommendation is to experiment with all of these suggestions and if you can, implement them all.  They’re good for shin splint treatment, prevention, and work well for other injuries too.  They have helped me get rid of shin splints in the past and I hope they work for you too.

  1. Introduce more variety in your program.  Rotate 2-3 pairs of shoes, run on varied terrain like trails and hills, and don’t run the same speed every day.  Constantly challenge your body.
  2. Avoid the “three too’s” – too much, too soon, too fast.  Sudden increases in volume or intensity can over-stress your shins making you more susceptible to sore shins.
  3. Don’t tie your shoes so tight.  Doing so can restrict the movement of your shin muscles and tendons where they attach to your ankle.
  4. If you wear very bulky trainers, you could be at a higher risk of aggressively heel striking or slapping your foot down on the ground. Wear a pair of minimalist running shoes (I train in the Saucony Kinvara’s and New Balance 101’s) for 1-3 runs per week to strengthen your lower legs and feet.
  5. Don’t run cold.  Warm-up before you head out the door with a dynamic flexibility routine.  Your muscles work better when they are warm and primed to work.
  6. Consistency is king. If you regularly take significant breaks from running then your body is not being trained to adapt to the stress of running.  Be more consistent with your training and your body won’t rebel as frequently.
  7. Strengthen your lower legs with barefoot strides, slow barefoot running (not too much!) on a soft surface, and avoiding shoes with a very high heel. You should also be doing a consistent strength routine. If you’re stuck on a good routine, I highly recommend the Rebel Strength Guide.
  8. Ice your shins.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’m astounded by the number of people who disregard the power of ice.  Use a paper cup and peel the paper back at the top to expose about an inch of ice.  Massage your shin muscles for 10-20 minutes.  Also, ice-baths are my favorite.  Just make sure to use enough ice.
  9. Correct your form by having a high stride-rate, landing on your mid-foot underneath your hips, and keeping your back tall as you run.  If you are going to choose only one suggestion here, pick this one.
  10. Finally, have patience.  Sometimes sore shins just happen and unless the pain is severe or sharp, you can train through it.  Stay tough.

Like I mentioned, some of these treatment plans may not work for you.  Treating injuries, and also running, is largely a trial and error game.  The more options you experiment with, the more success you’ll experience. If you really need to learn how to get rid of shin splints then you should experiment with many of these strategies.

I’ve found what works for me: trails, increasing my cadence, running more hills, and consistency with core and other strength work.  I haven’t had a major injury in over two years and I’m still going strong.  I’ve learned when to take it easy and when to run hard.  It took me 12 years, but I guess I’m a slow learner.

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to shin splints, so remember #8 above.  Consistently practice these suggestions, be patient, and shin splints will soon be a distant memory.  One warning: if your shin pain is severe, sharp, or lasts for longer than a month, you should get it checked out by a professional.  You could have compartment syndrome; not something you want to run through.

Who struggles with sore shins?  Did I leave out one of your favorite treatment or prevention tips?  Let me know in the comments.  If you liked this article, get more of them by joining the Strength Running Team!

Photo Credit: ReneS
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