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Fitness Articles  ›  Special Concerns

Tips and Hints to Deal with Shin Splints

Preventing and Caring for this Common Injury

-- By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
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The phrase "shin splint" is a generic term that describes pain in the lower leg, either on the medial (inside) or lateral (outside) side of the shin bone. This pain usually begins as a dull ache that can't be pinpointed; it can be felt along the entire region where the muscle attaches to the bone.

Early on, exercisers will usually feel pain only at the beginning and end of their workouts. But over time the discomfort becomes more severe, lasting throughout workouts and striking even when you're not exercising, like when getting out of bed.

Technically, shin pain can be caused by a number of conditions, such as tendonitis, periostitis (inflammation of the membrane covering the bone), or a stress fracture. Considering that the placement, causes, and treatment of these three injuries are often the same, the term "shin splint" became a simple way to label the injury.

Shin splints almost always occur in sports that involve running or jumping, such as jogging, dancing, gymnastics, and more. Even walkers can experience shin splints. Contrary to popular belief, they do not always represent a stress fracture of the shin bone (tibia), although stress fractures can be one of the reasons for lower leg pain.
 
What causes shin splints?
  • Doing too much too soon. Often people with a lot of enthusiasm start an exercise program too aggressively. It is important to gradually progress in your running or conditioning program, allowing for adequate rest between workouts.
     
  • Increasing the intensity or duration of your workouts. Overuse syndrome typically occurs when someone does too much and continually strains the muscles of the lower leg. Increasing your distance or intensity by more than 10% per week would make you a prime candidate for shin splints—especially if you don't cross-train to diversity your program.
     
  • Your shoes. Quality running and cross-training shoes are designed to give the best anatomical support. If your shoes are broken down or old—even when the soles or top appear fine—then they have lost their ability to control the rotation of your foot and absorb shock. This "breakdown" usually occurs after 400-500 miles of wear.
     
  • The surfaces on which you exercise. Hard surfaces can cause and aggravate shin splints. The optimal surface for running and aerobics should absorb shock, such as an all-purpose track or grassy surface.
     
  • High impact exercise. Running sprints, running uphill, jumping, and repetitive impact exercises can all cause shin splints.
     
  • Your anatomy. Fallen arches (flat feet), knocked or internally rotated knees, very high arches and over rotation of the foot are all prime causes of shin splints. An orthopedic physician, athletic trainer, or physical therapist can help identify mechanical problems and may prescribe orthotics (custom shoe inserts) as well as strengthening and stretching exercises. Continued ›
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • Yoga sessions are an ideal counter-exercise to running / walking / biking / elliptical etc. Many aerobic activities tighten and shorten hamstrings and other leg muscles while yoga, dancing and martial arts loosen and lengthen these same muscles. Instead of stopping or reducing an aerobic exercise program due to shin splints or other leg pains, try adding 1 hr of yoga 3x per week or more. Massage also does wonders! - 6/29/2013 11:09:46 AM
  • Great article! I thought I was going to have to quit walking. Now I know how to deal with shin splints. Thanks to everyone that has posted suggestions here!
    - 9/24/2012 8:54:27 AM
  • FITMOMMY18
    Thanks for the tip about compression sleeves. Very prone to shin splints as well, so I'll try one of those... or two. LOL
    - 7/8/2012 11:18:48 PM
  • I've been *extremely* prone to shin splints since the first time I got them in '97. One wrong step and I would have a shin splint work its way up from ankle to knee. And it took several weeks to heal if they were particularly bad. I thought I had tried everything until I read up on compression sleeves for the shin/calf. I wear them when my workouts are impact exercises (running/walking/
    jumping) and keep them on for a while after. I also have a second not sweaty pair for putting on for a bit whenever they are feeling weak. Very comfortable and now I can run consistently and up my mileage without pain. It may not work for everyone, but it has for me. There are many brands out there to look into. In fact, I'm wearing them right now post boot camp! - 6/4/2012 2:02:42 PM
  • SANDIBETTS1
    Thanks for your article and the helpful insights shared by some of the readers. Very helpful. - 5/28/2012 7:13:40 AM
  • This is a great article. I wish I had read this before I started working out again. I'm so grateful to have this information. Thanks - 4/19/2012 10:22:22 AM
  • Thanks-guess I will stick to the bike instead of the treadmill - 2/16/2011 12:25:42 PM
  • Loved the tips and agree it is important to let people know your body needs time to adapt - the 10% rule is not often cited. Start small and build up from the foundation.
    Also like the tip on the frozen veggies - go for a run, come home, ice your shins, then make soup! - 11/21/2010 3:36:21 PM
  • Great article. I'd love to see more articles featuring the need to increase activity gradually. With all the TV prograsm & Couch to xxxK emphasis, giving your body time to adjust to increased activity seems too often to get lost. re:

    Increasing your distance or intensity by more than 10% per week ... - 11/20/2010 3:15:45 AM
  • How can I tell if I have shin splints or if it's just an aching muscle? I'm overweight and I've recently been trying to go for walks, but everytime I do, I only last about 15 minutes because of the pain I get on the front of my legs. In my shin area, it feels really tight and painful. A little bit after walking, it doesn't feel as bad, but when I try it again a few days later, it's horrible again. Anyone have any suggestions of what it may be or what may help? - 11/2/2010 2:41:07 PM
  • Great article - really thorough.

    One of my new fitness clients had shin-splints. He was an avid runner on hard surfaces.

    A look at his training shoes revealed that they were worn down on the insides of the soles, indicating knock-knees (he didn't have flat feet). I recommended swimming/cycling/
    elliptical, and no running (advice he received reluctantly!) until the pain was gone.

    A regime of leg strengthening and re-balancing of the leg muscles (a range of lunges and squats) helped resolve the problem over time. Plus a good stretching session after every workout!

    And of course, new training shoes. - 9/24/2010 1:45:17 PM
  • Will try this stretching exercise! Hope it will help. :) - 7/25/2010 10:55:57 AM
  • Great article. This is the only stretching exercise I've found that actually stretches the muscles. - 3/9/2010 11:34:55 AM
  • Thanks. Great article and comments. I haven't been able to find information anywhere on help with the pain of shin splints. - 7/23/2009 7:54:01 PM
  • CINCIGIRL24
    Thanks, I have also found that this is the only exercise that has helped with my shin splints...and I have a friend who is an athletic trainer, and this is what she recommended for me to do as well, it works great! - 1/29/2009 12:47:33 PM
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