Top 5 Ways to Reduce Shin Splints

Shin splints is painful and it will stop you running. “How did you know I was a runner?” We didn’t, but we commonly see shin splints in runners or people who do a lot of cardio or team sports that involve running, like football and hockey.

We know that this is more than an ache, and it’s very hard to run through it, the pain will force you to stop.

But fear not, fellow exercisers! Understanding the causes and learning the best ways to reduce shin splints can bring you back to enjoying your active lifestyle pain-free.

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints is pain on the outside of your shin bone, caused by overuse or repetitive stress on the muscles, tendons, and bones in the lower leg. This stress can lead to tiny tears in the tissues, resulting in inflammation, pain, and tenderness. If the problem continues, it can cause a bone stress reaction, and eventually a stress fracture.

Causes of Shin Splints

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of shin splints, including:

  • Rapidly increasing your activity: Starting a new exercise program too quickly or dramatically increasing your training intensity can put excessive force through your shins. Let’s say you start running 5x 10km each week and you are not ready for it, this could cause shin splints.

  • Improper training techniques: Running on hard surfaces, wearing worn-out shoes, or using incorrect running form can all contribute to shin splints.

  • Biomechanical factors: Flat feet, weak ankles, and tight or weak calf muscles can make your shins more susceptible to overuse.

The good news is that shin splints are often preventable and manageable. Here are the top five ways to reduce shin splints:

1. Reduce load on the shins

Basically, do less. Ok, we know you love running. In some cases, you may be a professional athlete. If you are, come in. For the rest of us, reduce speed, intensity or distance and see if that helps. If you cannot do this because you are in the middle of an important training phase for a big event, then get in to see our physio/osteo team and we’ll treat it.

2. Mix up your activities

Don’t just run every day. Swim one or two days per week. Cycle one or two days. Vary your exercise regime to work different muscle groups. Swimming is low impact, and can take a lot of pressure off the shins. Cycling can do the same too. You could even have a core day once per week instead of a running day. Variation can help to reduce the pain you are suffering.

3. Exercises

Exercises can really help. Maintaining strong legs, but also flexible muscles in the leg is key. Here are a couple of good exercises you can do to build up the tolerance of the shins:

Stand upright on one leg. Slowly raise up onto your toes, and control the movement back down. Hold on to a wall or table for support. This exercise will strengthen the calf muscle and ankle joint. Repeat 20-30 reps. If you feel this exercise is too hard, then do both legs together.

Stand facing a wall, with your feet together and your hands flat against the wall. Both your feet should be facing forwards and your back heels resting on the ground and your knees straight. You should feel a stretch to the leg at the back, in the calf muscles (known as the gastrocnemius). Hold the stretch for thirty seconds, and repeat three times.

4. Physiotherapy/Osteopathy

Yes, we are biased, but we see loads of people get better with therapy. Manual therapy is great… we can massage the shin muscles and the tibialis anterior, as well as the calf muscles. This gives people noticeable pain relief. We can guide you on the right exercises to do for you. We can use electrotherapy such as ultrasound (very good for shin splits and bone healing) and LASER (great for the muscle).

5. Dry Needling Acupuncture

It won’t work for everyone, but dry needling (trigger point) acupuncture can be brilliant. We often use a technique called periosteal pecking, where we tap the needle gently onto the bone, exactly where the pain is. This helps numb the bone pain from the shin splints, and can be remarkably effective. We reckon it works in 50-60% of patients who report positive benefits from dry needling acupuncture. We also do this at the main clinics at Surrey Physio.

Finally, the key thing is to build your activity slowly and gradually. When starting a new exercise programme, listen to your body and gradually increase the intensity and duration over a few weeks. Bashing out repeated miles every day could simply cause you problems. Repetition is good, yes, but not overload. Mix up your activities too. Seek support from a running coach at your local athletics track – there are usually brilliant, and will have loads of experience. Lastly, maintain flexibility and strength in your legs. And just one more thing, if you need us, book online to see one of our amazing team members at Surrey Physio for advice, support and help.