Shin splints. When you have them, boy, do you know it! They’re the bane of many runners’ training—whether you’re new to running or more experienced.
Though shin splints are common, they’re rather dubious in nature. Most runners can’t pinpoint the single moment or event correlated with their onset.
No, in fact, they often come on slowly, leading many runners to believe it’s simply a strain that will go away on its own without any special treatment. While sometimes, sure, shin splints just go away—at least for the lucky ones—more often, shin splints become a chronic (and painful!) problem.
But don’t lose hope! Like most of the obstacles that will surface during your life as a runner (and there will be many), there are plenty of ways to treat shin splints before they get out of hand and derail your running schedule.
There’s shin splits prevention and shin splints recovery—and you can (and should) try both. Let’s first focus on prevention:
5 Ways to Avoid Shin Splints
Shin splints are an overuse injury. They’re caused by repeated strain on the calf muscles, especially the anterior muscles along the shin bone.
So if you’re just starting out or kicking your training up a notch, use these tips to avoid shin splints.
1. Start Slow
Weekend warriors beware. The easiest way to get shin splits is logging too many miles too quickly.
Shin splints are the most common injury for new runners. So if you’ve never run before (or you’ve never run that FAR before), hitting the pavement for five to ten miles a day right off the bat puts you at risk. Even if your cardiovascular system—your heart and lungs—can handle the workload, your legs are absorbing the strain. So even if you’re confident in your mileage, start out slow for your shins’ sake.
2. Find Softer Surfaces
Pavement is tough on your body. The impact of your feet pounding hard pavement puts stress and strain on your muscles, bones and joints. Yet, it’s tough to find an alternative to running on pavement (especially if you live in the city), but I promise they’re out there.
Treadmills, for example, can put less strain on your shins than running on the pavement because of the give in the deck. Trail running on dirt and beach running on sandy surfaces are also lower impact. (Bonus points for the great scenery! Minus points because it provides different ways to injure yourself.)
3. Use the Right Shoes
Finding the right running shoes is crucial to avoiding shin splints primarily because their role is to minimize the stress put on your calf muscles. Choosing the right shoe can be a tough process of trial and error. It may take time. You may even need to use orthopedic inserts in your shoes. BUT, have faith—you’ll eventually find the right gear for your feet to avoid shin splints.
Rest is vital to avoiding injury, especially if you’re a newbie runner. I know many runners fight and fuss over the idea of rest. After all, we’re runners—we like to MOVE, right?
When it comes to avoiding shin splints, rest really is best. You’re bound to overuse your calf muscles, so getting into a habit of resting them is critical. Even if you’re dying to keep a running streak going, take an easy day here and there, cross-train and incorporate foam rolling into your recovery (but do NOT over-roll). Your body needs downtime and TLC to perform optimally.
Stretching is yet another area runners often like to skimp on. You might try it and wonder if it’s doing anything at all. Don’t worry, it is! Gentle stretching loosens up your muscles post-run.
Truth be told, calf stretches can help you avoid shin splints. Try dynamic stretches with a resistance band before your run (to warm up your muscles) and static stretches (to relax and restore) afterwards. It’s good practice to add to any running routine.
- calf stretch with band
- resistance stretch with band
- stair heel drop
- kneeling shin stretch