So you’ve started running and are loving it . . . and then you get shin splints. You have to rest it until it goes away, right? Well you are right and wrong. But let’s start at the beginning.
What are shin splints?
Shin splints are acute pain between the ankle and the knee along the shin. They are often worse in the morning (because your muscles tighten overnight) and during high impact activities (such as running and jumping). You will often notice them ease up after you’ve been running for awhile (because your muscles have warmed up) – but that’s not a reason to push through! It can be felt as acute pain or pins and needles and you will probably find your shin is sensitive to the touch.
Although shin splints aren’t anything to worry about, left untreated they can lead to a much bigger problem like a stress fracture, so you want to seek professional help and get out in front of it as quickly as possible. It is often easy to mistake a stress fracture for shin splints, so don’t skip seeing your physiotherapist who will be able to give you advice specific to your situation. But once you have been diagnosed with shin splints, I’ve put together some of the great things that can help your rehab.
Rest won’t help. But you can’t do anything while you are in pain.
Shin splints are often an immaturity in the muscle, so if you rest until you are pain free – as soon as you start running again, the shin splints are going to return. On the other hand, shin splints are soft tissue damage and your body is not going to heal itself while it’s in pain – so the first thing you need to do is get yourself pain free. Do not run or even walk while you are still experiencing shin pain.
Things to avoid while you are recovering from shin splints
This that are going to aggravate shin splints include hills and hard surfaces. So while you are recovering you might want to do your walking or running on grass or sand or use the treadmill and keep to flat surfaces. Avoid jumping or anything that is going to be high impact.
Take a look at your shoes.
Shin splints can often be caused by lack of support in your shoes. If your shoes are allowing you to pronate then this can cause a problem, or even if you are in the wrong shoes. I’m a neutral runner (meaning my feet don’t tend to roll inwards or outwards when I run) and I was recommended shoes by a local running shop back when I started that were stability shoes (to provide support for people who DO pronate) and this gave me a really severe case of shin splints.
Reduce inflammation of the muscle tissue
If you are in pain you can take an anti-inflammatory, but also regularly applying ice packs or massaging with an anti-inflammatory gel will be a huge help in the beginning. If you can, ice your muscles four times a day for about ten to fifteen minutes. Spend about the same time massaging your legs with either an anti-inflammatory gel or even a massage balm or body butter.
Stretch your shins and calves
Tight calves are a really common cause of shin splints, so as well as your shins, you want to focus on your calves as well. Here are four stretches you can do to start with.
Are your ready to roll?
Rolling your muscles is great, but if you are in a bit of pain you are going to have to start slowly and work your way into it. The trick with rolling is to start at the edge of where it starts to become painful and work on that so you can relax while you are doing it. If it is too painful, your muscles are going to tense up and you aren’t going to get a great benefit from it. Here is a great rolling technique for relieving shin splints.
Once you are no longer in pain, you can add some things to your routine
Once you aren’t in pain, start walking. But don’t stop doing all the things you’ve been doing up until this point either! Only when you can walk pain free should you move up to running and you might want to use a run/walk interval program so you don’t over-stress your muscles.
Start some muscle strengthening exercises
To address the muscle immaturity, you can start doing some calf raises. I find that heavy calf raises (with dumbbells or cans or bottles from the pantry) do great things to injury-proof shins. Make sure you are standing on a step with only the ball of your foot on the step (so the back of your foot is hanging off the edge). Drop your heel right down for full extension and then stand up (slowly, counting to 5) until you are on your tip-toes. Aim for about three sets of ten repetitions a few times a week.
And here are four more exercises you can also do to target shin splints.
Get back out there!
Shin splints aren’t forever and if you catch them early there’s no reason why you can’t continue running – just as long as you consult a professional, listen to your body and be just as pro-active in your treatment as you are in your running.