Shin splints is a term referring to pain on the front or inside of the shin. It is a very common injury in people new to sport, for those who are increasing their training load, training on hard surfaces, or people who walk a lot. Really common this time of year with all of the New Years resolutions 😃.

It should be noted that not all shin pain is from shin splints. An example of conditions which you may mistake for shin splints are a shin stress fracture, and compartment syndrome (which is a swelling within the compartments around the shin bone). Both of these can potentially be quite serious so it is important to get an assessment to confirm your diagnosis.

There are a number of things that can lead to shin splints, here are some of the common ones:

 1. Training approach: stepping up your training too quickly (going from “Zero to Hero”) is a very easy way to get injured. Injuries happen when the strain we put on our bodies is too much for our tissues to withstand.

So if you are new to exercise, make sure you start small and build up gradually. And remember a variety of different types of exercise will reduce your injury risk particularly if you throw in some low impact exercise (for example alternate between cycling/walking/online Pilates or yoga class).

Take rest days between sessions (ie if walking hurts, walk every 2nd day and cycle on the alternate days) and follow a training programme if you are starting something new like running, eg Couch to 5K. But you shouldn’t allow the discomfort to rise above a 3-4/10. 

If you are increasing your training load, ask yourself:

– Is your body ready for this increase?

– Have you built up steadily over the last few months? If so, increase your mileage or your intensity of sessions in one discipline at a time. 10% a week is a good guide, and this means a 10% increase in either intensity or mileage, not both!


2. Training surface

Completing all of your training on hard surfaces increases the risk of getting injuries such as shin splints, so try to vary the surface you are training on eg road, track or pitch sessions. Try a cross trainer or bike to unload the tissues while still working on fitness.

3. Footwear

Make sure your footwear is still fit fit use- generally speaking, if the heels are obviously worn down in the outside of the shoe, the support is gone.

Lack of cushioning will make your shin splints worse so make sure there’s good shock absorbency in whatever you exercise in.

For all of the research on the various types of footwear for exercise, what they’ve found is that “gut” feeling of comfort of the shoe is your most important guide- if it feels right, wear it.


4. Muscle strength and flexibility

Better strength in the muscles of your trunk will help to hold good posture and maintain good alignment of your legs while exercising. Therefore doing regular exercises to improve your strength and core stability will reduce your risk of injury. If you are unsure as to what you should be doing, we can help design a programme to suit your activity and your specific areas of weakness. We are also running Pilates classes online. 

5. Warm-up and cool-down

Before you run, walk or train, your tissues need to be warmed-up, for example doing a light jog/brisk walk, anything that gets the blood flowing. A common misconception is that people need to spend a lot of time stretching before they run- in fact static stretching is more important as part of your cool-down and recovery. 

Adequate time needs to be allowed for both the warm-up and cool-down- this can vary from 5-15 minutes, but make sure you feel the benefit before you stop.

Here are some useful stretches for shin splints:

Treatment of shin splints

Beyond the tips above, if you feel shin splints developing, the sooner you rest or pull back from training, the quicker they will heal. Ice your shin to reduce inflammation. Use the stretches in the link above, especially the calf stretches. Foam rolling your calf muscle hurts like hell but can help too. 

Once the pain has settled you can try to gradually build up your training again, start at a low level and increase one component (intensity or mileage) at a time. If you are in doubt about how to return to activity without flaring up pain in your shins, ask one of our Chartered Physiotherapists for advice.

Call us on 0404 49781


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