One of the many running overuse injuries I have suffered from in the past is shin splints. It took a few months and lots of research, but I learned how to stop getting shin splints from running. Here are some tips on how you can do the same, and banish the dreaded shin pain!
What does shin splints feel like?
Shin splints feel like an ache on one side of the shin bone, halfway up my lower leg (between the ankle and knee). It can seem to feel like the muscle is pulling away from the bone (eww).
Shin splints I have experienced tend to hurt the most when running on hard surfaces, particularly when going downhill. It is not a sharp pain, just an annoying ache that won’t go away, and sometimes continues to hurt after running. It will get worse if you don’t rest it.
Why am I getting shin splints when running?
Work out what you are doing/have done to cause the problem. Once you know this, then you can work out how you can stop getting shin splints.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I increased my weekly time/distance running recently… perhaps too quickly?
- Have I been running fast on hard surfaces, either flat or downhill?
- Do I tend to heel-strike when I run (land mainly heels first, before the rest of the foot?)
- Are my trainers old or worn-out?
Essentially, like many running injuries, shin splints tend to happen as a result of over-training, poor running form – or a combination of the two. The main reason I was getting them is that I would go out, on a steep hill, and run up and down it as fast as I could, on hard pavement.
This meant I was ‘thumping’ down those steep, hard hills, striking heels first (because this is what most new runners do when running downhill), and straining my shins, with this lack of running form and high-impact of the descent.
How can I manage the problem?
Rest and ice
In the short term, the best thing I’ve found is to rest the leg and apply an ice pack to it for around 10 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day if possible.
No runner wants to be told to rest and not run, but you’re not going to solve the problem by continuing to run on it. You need to let it heal and learn from the experience so you don’t end up repeating the injury in the future.
How much rest do I need?
In terms of how long it will take for shin splints to heal, this depends on how bad they are and also how quickly you heal. Think about how much time you spend on your feet and avoid it as much as possible – easier said than done, for most people, but it is important. Also, think about your diet, and whether you can eat more vitamin-rich, plant-based foods to help your body to heal as quickly as possible. It took me about 3-4 weeks of rest and icing before I could start to run again without shin pain – but see below for what I did differently when I did start running again…
Cross train to build or maintain fitness
If you need to continue training or maintain fitness, focus on cross-training while you are avoiding running and letting your shins heal. The best cross-training for trail runners in this situation includes:
- core and upper body strength workouts
However if any of these hurt or aggravate your recovering leg, then choose another option or go swimming for a no-impact and non-weight-bearing cardio workout.
How can I stop getting shin splints when running – for good?
Here’s how I adapted my training to avoid shin splints. All are good things to do to improve your running in many ways (more than just to stop getting shin splints from running), so I highly recommend taking as many of these tips on board, to help you stop the shin splints and become a stronger, happier runner.
Take smaller strides
Focus on taking smaller strides, landing on your midfoot, with your body above the landing foot, not behind it. This will help you reduce the amount of ‘heel striking’ you do.
Increase your running ‘cadence’
This means taking more steps per minute, which will probably, at least initially, go hand in hand with taking smaller strides. The number of steps per minute to aim for is 180 (90 on each leg). I generally run at about 85-86 per minute now, without thinking
Take it easy on steep descents (particularly on hard surfaces)
Your shins will thank you.
If you are going for it, fast down a hill, focus on landing with your feet below your body, which may mean you need to push your hips forward… this should mean less heel striking and straining of the shins. If you want to take it easy, keep taking the small steps (see above), and if it’s really steep, try zig-zagging your way down to curb your speed and the impact on your shins (think: skiier-style!).
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Run on trails, not roads!
Hopefully, if you don’t already, our website and content will encourage you to shift to trail running, and minimise the amount of road running you do – it’s a great way to reduce the impact on your legs, particularly when running downhill. There are many benefits to trail running over road running ( this is the subject of a blog post in its own right) and these include a reduction in the likelihood of getting shin splints.
Treat your shins with ice or a cold shower after running
If you’ve had a tough, long or hilly run session, then make sure you ice your shins (along with other heavily-worked areas) with an ice-pack, or, as we prefer to do, take a few minutes in the shower to run the water over your lower legs while you massage them with the other hand, using the coldest temperature possible.
We find this is good to do anyway after every run, but particularly if you feel a strain coming on, as it can help reduce inflammation in the shins.
Wear calf guards
When I was recovering from shin splints, I found that wearing calf guards really helped me avoid them recurring. However, it’s important to acknowledge that you can’t just solve the problem by wearing compression calf guards, a change in running style and behaviour is most likely also required.
Consider changing your shoes…
But if you don’t have old shoes, the problem is more likely to be solved by correcting your form, as explained above. If you do feel you have to change your shoes, rather than run out and buy a really cushioned pair of shoes, consider whether you should actually be looking at investing in a more minimal LESS cushioned pair. These will encourage you to run with better form, than running around in really cushioned running shoes.
What I would not recommend
- Taking pain killers – they only hide the pain and don’t solve the problem
- Choosing over-cushioned shoes in an attempt to solve the problem – see above
- Running when you have shin pain – it is frustrating not being able to run, but if you continue to run, then the injury will only get worse and take longer to heal – it may even lead you to get a stress fracture, which is an even bigger problem!
Stop those shin splints!
I hope you’ve found these tips useful in helping you to stop getting shin splints from running. If you have any other advice to add to the tips we have shared, post them in the comments below!
If you found this useful, don’t forget: sharing is caring! Please share this blog post and advice with your running friends too 🙂