What are shin splints?

A type of shin pain that's most commonly caused by exercise, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome. It will feel like a tender pain running down the front of your leg, along with a mild swelling and comes from stress both to your shinbone and the tissues that connect the muscles to your bone.

Although it’s not commonly seen to be 'serious' and can be easily dealt with, it can develop into something more (such as a stress fracture) if not treated with caution.

It’s what’s known as an ‘overload injury’ which means if you are likely to develop shin splints, it’s important to reduce your level of high impact exercise, taking steps like running on grass instead of concrete. 


Top tips how to prevent shin splints

Make sure you warm up

When looking to avoid shin splints, the three lower body parts you will want to focus on are the hamstrings, the calves and your ankles. Stretch off your hamstrings before you start exercising with the simple ‘seated shin stretch’. This involves dropping your knee down to the ground so that your knee is extended, in a similar fashion to the standing stretch. Then, in a gentle manner, pull forward, keeping your toe planted and hold for 15 to 20 seconds, then repeat with the other foot. 

With calves and ankles, it all depends on the type of exercise you are looking to do. Although with fitness walking, you can warm up as you walk, race walking needs a more explosive start. So warm-up for 10 minutes before the race with some jogging on the spot or jumping jacks.

Performing three sets of calf raises on each leg, and circle your ankles 30 times in each direction will help to avoid shin splints or a sprained ankle. Your muscles and joints will thank you later.


Work on strengthening

Another way of keeping your shins in good shape over a longer period of time, is by strengthening certain areas of your body. The first of these is the arch of your foot. If you are someone who does not regularly exercise, there's a good chance that both your feet and lower leg areas will be weak and therefore more susceptible to shin splints. This can be dealt with through using arch supports or orthotics, as well as taking the time to do little exercises such as using your toes to pull a towel towards you whilst sitting.

It’s also important to develop your hip muscle strength, to absorb shock and pressure during exercises. This can be solved with two exercises.

  1. The first of these are known as hip extensions, which involve starting on all fours, tightening your abs, and extending your hip, knee bent and raising your foot towards the sky.
  2. The second exercise that can help is glute bridges, for which you start on your back, with bent knees and feet flat on the floor. With tightened abs, you are to raise your hips off the ground, into a bridge position and hold for 30 seconds. If this starts getting too easy, extend one knee and perform with one leg. The usual amount of rep count for both exercises is around 10 - 20.


Be mindful and exercise carefully 

While it’s easy to get carried away when you feel like your exercise is going well, it’s important to tread carefully. Sudden over exertion can be a cause of shin splints, so with activities such as walking, running and jumping, it’s a good idea to spread them out over days, and alternate the exercises as you go.

The surface you exercise on also plays an important role. Whilst this won’t happen to everyone that trains on concrete, looking for areas of softer ground will do wonders for the longevity of your work out, and will help avoid shin splints and also knee issues.


Stay at a healthy body weight 

It may sound simplistic, and be precisely the reason you are planning to work out, but pushing yourself too hard whilst physically overweight can lead to getting shin splints.


Find the right shoes for you

This doesn’t necessarily mean having to spend a fortune on a pair. It is worth however finding out what type of shoe is best suited to your feet, which will provide the right type of support for the type of exercise you are doing, and have shock absorbing insoles, although they can be purchased independently.

Once you've purchased the right pair, look out for when they go on sale, as it can be good to have a few pairs of running shoes, as an example.


Top tips how to treat shin splints

If unfortunately, you do happen to develop shin splints, it will mean you’ll need to take a short break from exercising. Although the pain will subside after a few hours of rest and anti-inflammatories, there are a variety of home techniques you can use to yourself back in the correct condition to get back to full fitness.

 

Ice the injured leg

Not only will this decrease pain, but it also prevents tissue damage. You can either use an ice pack or a bag of crushed ice, keeping it covered with a towel and place it on your shin for 15 to 20 minutes every hour (or as the doctor says). 

There is also the option to do an ice massage. To do this, freeze a paper cup full of water and after peeling away the paper, rub the ice cube using medium pressure to 10-15 minutes. Do this 3 to 4 times a day. 

When resting, keep the injured leg elevated

If you can have it raised to slightly above your heart, it will help relieve the pain and decrease the swelling. Use pillows and cushions to make it comfortable.


Use protective footwear and compression bands

Once up and moving around, wearing Orthopaedic shoes will help avoid over-pronation (strain placed on the leg muscles). Depending on the severity of your shin splints, you may need to wear supportive shoes, even when you aren’t exercising. Another way of reducing the swelling is by wrapping your leg with either an elastic band or support bandage.


Returning to exercise with methods of prevention

Without wanting to reuse information, once you are back up and moving around without pain, it may well be worth scrolling up the top of this article and rereading the advice of how to avoid getting shin splints in the first place. If you feel like any of the preventive methods may apply to you, do your best to put them into practice


If the problem persists, consult a GP

While some cases of shin splints will go away and can be managed with, there are unfortunately some situations where they require physiotherapy, and in rare occasions, surgery.