Stretching your leg muscles before strenuous activity can help to avoid shin splints, but even the most staunch stretcher may fall victim to the condition. In very severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the tissue damage around the lower leg bone. The majority of the time, however, shin splints will go away on their own. Because it can take up to six weeks for a shin splint to heal, you should not rush the healing process.
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The most important thing a healing shin splint needs is time. Rest your injured leg for a few days immediately after the injury occurs to prevent causing additional damage to your tissue. Keep your injured leg elevated to reduce swelling. When you resume physical activity, make your exercise less intense for a few weeks until the condition goes away. For instance, decrease the distance you run or the weight you lift. You may even consider switching to a less intense physical activity with less impact, such as bicycling or swimming. If you feel the same pain at any time after resuming exercise, stop immediately and give yourself more time to recover.
Apply ice to the injured tendon immediately and for a few days after the injury occurs. Ice will decrease inflammation, reduce pain and shorten the healing time associated with your shin splint. For ice massages, large ice cubes work best, but a cube from a standard ice cube tray works as well. Rub the ice cube in small circles around the area of the injury while applying pressure. It is not necessary to place the ice cube in anything, but if you find the cold sensation painful, you may wrap the cube in a cloth or towel. Continue to massage the ice cube into the injury for five to ten minutes at a time, three to four times daily for two to three days.
After the first three days, stop applying ice to your shin splint and begin applying heat. A hot pack is ideal, but you could also microwave a damp towel. Take care not to make the hot pack too warm or you may burn your skin. Keep the heat on your leg for about 20 minutes to relax the tissue, and then deeply massage your leg. Finish the routine with light stretching. Do not push your tendons beyond the point that they begin to hurt--you may not have as much flexibility in your leg as you had before your injury. Stretch your Achilles tendon by putting your toe against a hard surface and slowly pushing your heel down until your tendon feels stretched. Do not force or bounce your heel as this may further damage your tissue.
Your shin splints will heal faster if you provide support to your legs and decrease the amount of stress your tissue must experience. Individuals with flat feet or overly pronounced arches benefit from shoe inserts specific to their condition. This additional support in the foot decreases stress on the shins. Additionally, wrap the injured area with an elastic compression bandage. The bandage should feel snug but not be tight enough to cut off circulation.