Whether you're training for a race or looking to improve your heart health, you don't want tight shins when running to derail your workouts. Ugh, shin splints. You know, that throbbing, splintering feeling along the lower part of the front of your legs?
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Luckily, shin splints won't last forever, especially if you give your legs some TLC. Read on to learn how to treat the pain and how to prevent shin splints in the future.
What Causes Shin Splints
Formally known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints generally feel like a sharp pain along the muscle in front of shin (aka tibia), according to the Mayo Clinic. Essentially, shin splints are overworked muscles, tendons and connective tissue that become inflamed.
They're most often caused by a sudden increase in your training intensity, duration or frequency, per the Mayo Clinic. That's why this condition is common among athletes, particularly runners and dancers.
Although shin splints can make your lower legs feel awful, they're fairly simple to treat. Ice, rest and massage is usually enough to help alleviate the ache. However, if you still feel pain even after you've tried at-home care, you may want to consult a doctor.
What You Can Do to Treat Shin Splints
To treat shin splints, you'll want to address the root of the issue — most often, that means adjusting your training routine. If you've recently increased your mileage or pace, the shift may have been too drastic.
Or if you previously ran on flat terrain and have suddenly added hills, don't be surprised if you experience some pain along your lower leg, according to American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS). Alternating hill workouts with other types of training sessions can help alleviate your pain.
But rest should be your top priority, per the AAOS. Since shin splints are caused by overuse, you'll usually need a few weeks of rest from the activity that caused the pain, depending on the severity.
Icing your shins for 20 minutes a few times a day can also help. And if the pain is severe, you may also want to take an anti-inflammatory medication to bring down the swelling and inflammation.
And when you return to exercise, you might want to consider wearing compression socks to help promote blood flow to the area and facilitate workout recovery.
How to Prevent Shin Splints Before They Start
Varying your workout routine is one way to prevent shin splints. If you don't already, incorporating cross-training (performing a variety of exercise modalities) is an important element to add to your fitness regimen.
So if you're a runner, add a day of lower-impact exercise, like swimming or cycling to give your muscles more time to recover between your running workouts.
Increasing your training load gradually can help prevent shin splints, too. Try to follow the 10-percent rule, which means increasing your mileage or duration no more than 10 percent from one week to the next, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
And be strategic with any adjustments in your pace and intensity, recommends the ACE. Try gradually increasing your total training volume (duration, mileage, intensity) for two weeks, then follow it up with a week of lighter activity.
Wearing the right shoes for your feet can also help prevent shin splints from developing, according to the AAOS. Getting a gait analysis at a specialty running store can help ensure you're wearing the best shoes for your feet.
If you have flat feet or recurring shin splints, you may need to get fitted for orthotics, a type of shoe insert that helps properly align your feet, taking stress off your shins. You can consult an orthopedist to determine whether orthotics would be beneficial for you.