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

by Jason Fitzgerald

tShin 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 Injury Prevention for Runners program.
  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.

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Photo Credit: ReneS
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Ian

Great post. I hadn’t thought about the variety of shoes, but I’ve personally found that standing up tall, engaging my lower core and ensuring my pelvis is level will improve my stride quality and keep my mid foot striking on more consistently.

Fitz

Thanks Ian. I think having good form is one of the best ways to reduce shinsplints – and most other injuries! Thanks for the comment.

Nichol

This was very helpful. I’m still working on some strength training but it helps to know that is okay to keep running through the discomfort. I’m kind of to a place where if I can find an excuse I will and that takes that one away from me. :)

Fitz

Thanks Nichol, glad to see you here at Strength Running. No excuses, play like a champion!

Lydia

Great article. Thanks! I used to get shinsplints from walking. When I started running, they seemed to get better, but returned before too long. One thing that I have done is wrap a resistance band around my flexed foot and pull towards my body. Then I point and flex my foot. I usually do 3 reps of 10 on each leg. I have been doing it at night before bed. It has made a huge difference for me over the long run.

Fitz

That’s another good strengthening exercise you can do to strengthen your shins. Side benefit: it also helps your ankles and surrounding musculature develop strength. Glad to see you found something that worked!

Sergey

I had wicked shin splints for a couple years, then started some serious stadium training. One of the drills involved running backwards uphill on a spiraling ramp. Splints were gone within a week. Try it out!

Fitz

Wow that sounds intense! Backwards running has a host of benefits. I should write about that…

FoCo Runner

Chi Running form is good for this, due to the forward leaning (from the ankle), the midfoot strike, and running with the muscles that control flexion and extension (shin and calf) relaxed. Several other running forms have a lot of characteristics in common with Chi Running and are probably as good, but the learning to run with relaxed muscles in the lower leg is key to reducing shin soreness in my experience.

Caitlin

I have found that walking on my heels before I workout helps a lot with strengthening and reducing the pain during the workout.

Fitz

Nice strategy Caitlin, thanks!

Mona

When my shins ache during a run, it sometimes becomes unbearable and necessary to stop. I try to “rub them out” but they are usually like cement.You mention icing and massage for sore shins, but mine ONLY ache during my run/walk. After I’m done I don’t even know I’ve had pain. Is this something else? Or have I misunderstood? ,

Fitz

That sounds like shin splints to me! Try the suggestions here in the article and let us know how it goes, good luck!

Talmadge

I had shin splints a while ago, took about 5-6 weeks off from running until they felt better. I started easing back into my running routine last week. My shins are still bothering me, but now it’s only when i’m standing up off a chair, couch, etc. on days that I’ve gone running. When I’m running, they don’t hurt at all, even if I’m running full speed. Same if I’m jumping, they don’t hurt. They just hurt when I stand up, especially if I was sitting on a low couch or something similar. They usually feel better, even when getting off a chair by the next morning. Do I just need to take a little bit more time off from running for them to feel better?

Jason Fitzgerald

They don’t hurt while running so time off probably won’t help. Maybe be more gradual getting up? This ones a mystery to me

Sergey

So, after years of suffering through, my splints went away after < 2 weeks…my college football stadium sported uphill rising corkscrew spiral walkways….sprint backwards with long strides keeping knees slightly bent. Vary distance, speed, and any location with an uphill slope will do. I've done the same on a treadmill, 8 to 15 degrees. Stengthens and stretches the shins. Not a cure all, but definitely the most effective method i've tried, by a long shot.

S.Lynn

I used to get them all the time. But I read if you really really stretch out your calf muscles it would help. I’ve been doing that consistently, before, after and in the evenings before getting into bed and it truly helped me out. Just a thought.

Bryan

Hi Jason, I’ve asked you about this before, but I’m getting to the point of extreme frustration. I am planning on running a half-marathon at the end of April, so I got serious in mid-January. After only 4 weeks of only 12 miles a week to begin with, I had to take a week off because the inside of my left shin was so painful! I hurt to even walk around the house at that point. Now I am literally running 1 or 2 miles at a time, only 3 times a week, and my pain is slowly starting to come back. I am a midfoot striker, I run in two pairs of shoes, I run different terrain, and I ice the hell out of my legs after every single run. I’ve always dealt with shin splints, but usually they go away after a few weeks. Am I screwed?

Jason Fitzgerald

Maybe, maybe not. First rule out a stress fracture, then make sure your cadence is at least 170. Seems like you’re doing everything else right and it sounds like you’re on the mend so let’s hope it continues!

Panayiotis Savva

I think consistency is king.
I am fairly new at running, and suffer from sore shins. I have been running for about three monts. When I first started, l couldn’t run for more than one minutes before I had severe pain and had to stop.
I gradually increased my pace and time and kept at it. I still have sore shins, but there is a definite improvement.
I can now run for about 10 minutes at a constant speed before the pain creeps up on me..

I will try some of your suggestions and see how it goes.
Thanks for the good advice.

Shaylen

I just have a few qualms here-one being, shin splints IS considered an injury, and it’s NOT always do to running irregularly. I did x-country for many years.

Sergey Maslov

Could never rid myself of shin splints, in large part due to awful running form,!! until I started running stadiums. One of the drills was to sprint, with long strides, backwards uphill on a circular corkscrew ramp. Gone in 1 week!

Shana

I think I might be suffering from shin splints…but I don’t run. Advice?

Roberto

I started with shin splints 3 months ago. The first week, the shin splints where very strong. It hurt even when walking. The first 6 days I put ice. 4 times per day, between 10 and 15 minutes. The shin splints didn’t improve one bit. Until I got tired and radically change the strategy: I put the legs in a tub of hot water. And then massaged my legs. after the first bath in the tub with hot water, the pain decreased dramatically! practically disappeared! I think that the hot water and massages relaxes the shin muscles. I continued whit this treatment for a while, and I also use a foam roll to massage my shins. It seems to have great results!
And something also very important: REST! Be pattient.. shin splints take time to heal.

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