If you have been suffering with painful shins, there is a chance that it could be shin splints. Shin splints are commonly used to describe any sort of shin pain, but shin splints are specifically caused by putting weight on your legs through exercise such as running.1
The good news is that they’re not serious and can be easily treated, with the right help. Fortunately for you – we have put together all the relevant information that you’ll need to help you recover.
Over the course of the next article you’ll find everything you need to know, from what shin splints are, how you can prevent them and how you can look after your body, before, during and after exercise.
What are shin splints?
Without pointing out the obvious, shin splits are a pain down the lower front of the leg. Otherwise known as medial tibial stress syndrome (periostitis), shin splints are often associated with exercise and is particularly common with athletes, dancers and those who work in the military.2
Medically, it’s not fully understood exactly how it happens, but its thought that repeated stress on the bone and the tissue around the tibia get inflamed, causing pain around the whole shin.
- Shin splits affects the lower leg bone known as the tibia and tissues around the same area
- It’s not known exactly how the occur, but shin splints are thought to arise through repeated stress on the bone and tissue around the tibia
What do shin splints feel like?
If you have shin splints, you should expect to notice aching and tenderness along the front or sides of your lower leg.
In the early stages of shin splints you may find that the pain subsides when you stop exercising. Although, eventually you’ll find that you are in quite serious, continuous pain that can progress to a stress reaction or stress fracture.3
Symptoms of shin splints may include:
- You may feel pain when you start exercising
- When you exercise the pain seems to get better
- Pain goes away when you rest
- Painful areas feel tender when you touch them4
With stress fractures, it’s likely that the pain will get worse each time you exercise. If the pain you experience from shin splints, or something you may think is worse gets too severe, you should speak to your GP or a trained physiotherapist.
What causes shin splints?
Shin splints occur if you are putting too much stress and strain on your shin bone (tibia) and the tissue around it.
The bone and tissues may become inflamed if there is too much stress, which will cause you pain in the lower leg area. This may be caused by medial tibial stress syndrome (periostitis).
Your bone and tissue can cope with a certain amount of impact, strengthening themselves each time so they can recover. But if you keep putting too much stress on your bone, it may become inflamed.
There’s a number of reasons that you may get shin splints, these include:5
- If you’re overweight or have large calves
- If you have just started doing more energetic exercise, such as running
- If you have been running on the road or carrying out exercise on a hard surface
- You have a poor running technique
- Your shoes don't fit properly or don’t offer enough support
- A change in your running routine, such as treadmill to road
- You haven’t left enough time to recover between exercise
- There are a number of reasons that you may be getting shin splints
- Think about the exercise you are doing and the recovery time you allow yourself
- Try not to do too much too soon
How do I stop getting shin splints?
You may be able to prevent getting shin splints and stress fractures if you start your new exercise regime slowly.
Building up gradually and making sure you give yourself enough time to rest and recover between exercise is vital.
There are other methods you can try to prevent shin splints, they include:
- Wear sports shoes or trainers that cushion and support your feet properly. You may want to get them fitted at a specialist running shop as this will depend on the shape of your foot.
- Look to replace your running shoes after around 300 to 700 miles. Trainers lose their ability to absorb shock after a while, which may make you more likely to get shin splints or stress fractures.
- Build up slowly, try not to do too much if you are starting a new activity.
- Consider wearing cushioned insoles to absorb some of the impact when you’re running or playing sport.
- Train and exercise on grass, if possible, and not always on hard surfaces, such as roads.
- Do some stretching exercises for the front of your calves before you do any physical activities or sports.
How do you heal shin splints fast?
Shins splints are usually treated at home with a good, recommended dose of rest. You can take painkillers to ease the pain, but usually you should see improvements within a few weeks.5
According to the NHS you can follow these six steps to try and heal your shin splints more quickly.
Taking ibuprofen or paracetamol will ease the pain while you allow yourself time to recover.
Use an ice pack
Apply an ice pack, or bag of frozen veg wrapped in a towel to your shin for 20 minutes every two to three hours.
Ease your exercise routine
Try not to do strenuous exercise. Instead try yoga or swimming while your body recovers.
Ease yourself back into it
When you begin to feel better, try exercising on soft ground to take the pressure off your legs.
Warm up and cool down
You should add warming up properly ahead of exercise and cooling down as part of your routine.
Use the right shoes or trainers
Supporting your feet is important, so try to make sure you use footwear that will support your feet.
It’s important that you don’t continue doing the same exercise that caused your shin splints originally, allow yourself time to rest. Also, don’t rush yourself back and try and build your exercise back up slowly after recovery.
Shin splint summary
Shin splits occur in the bottom of the leg, in the bone known as the tibia and the tissues which surround it. Its not medically proven exactly how they come about, but it’s thought that intense pressure around that area can cause inflammation and, in some extreme circumstances, severe pain.
If you have shin splits it's important to allow yourself time to recover and only do light exercise. If the pain continues it is possible that it could be a stress fracture and you should contact your GP for a professional opinion.
Last updated: 03 May 2021