One of the biggest issues I am dealing with right now is shin splints.  I coach track and runners usually are the athletes dealing with shin splints, but it can happen in various sports.  Knowing how to care for your shin splints can be the difference to whether they go away or linger and become a stress fracture.

Shin splints occur when the muscles along the shin bone (tibia) and the connective tissues become sore.  The soreness can turn into pain, tenderness, or mild swelling.

This pain occurs when there is a shift in volume and the muscles, tendons, and other connective tissues become over-worked.  When this happens, shin splints can eventually go away with rest, ice, and exercises.  If they linger on, the worst-case scenario would be a stress fracture.

Typically, you will see shin splints develop in athletes at the beginning of a season when practice begins.  There is an increase in volume placed on the athlete and the muscles start getting overworked.  Meaning they are running a lot more and if they hadn’t been doing much in the off-season then this could be a shock to the system.

In order to handle shin splints, here is a checklist on what you need to do to get rid of them quickly:

  • Sometimes the training surface is to blame. You probably can’t control where you practice and run, but if possible running on grass is a lot better than asphalt or cement.
  • What type of shoes are you wearing? Old shoes with little to no support can make things awfully tough for your feet and ankles.  This then permeates up through the leg into your shins.  Get the right shoes needed to play your sport.
  • Your running mechanics could play a role in developing these imbalances causing the shin splint. Not going into too much description about proper mechanics (you can look through this blog for that), but make sure you are running properly so all the muscles are firing efficiently.
  • One of the best things you can do for shin splints is ice massage. Freeze paper cups of water, tear a little bit of the paper away, and ice massage your shins.  Do it for 15 minutes and if you still have ice left in that cup, place it back in the freezer for next time.
  • You need to strengthen the muscles in that area. The reason there is pain is because they couldn’t handle the load.  Calf raises might help, but you need to hit the small muscle on that tibia called the anterior tibialis.  Do some type of dorsiflexion strengthening work to hit that area properly.  Click here to watch some exercises to help prevent shin splints.
  • I talked about making sure you have good shoes for support, but the other thing that could work is doing some activities barefoot. A lot of sport teams are implementing barefoot work as a way to stimulate the little muscles in your feet to work properly.  This helps reduce the chances of lower body extremity issues such as shin splints.  You could either spend 15 minutes in grass doing running activities like a dynamic warmup.  Or at the very least do various toe or heel walks angling your feet in different directions to help the area.

Be patient with these solutions.  This won’t happen overnight even though it probably seemed you developed your shin splints overnight.  It will be gradual, but if you are consistent with this treatment, they should go away.  If they don’t, go to your doctor and see what the doc says.