Shin splints: all you need to know to finally get rid of them

first things first

I want to start this post by clearly stating that I am not a qualified sports coach, physio or doctor. Everything I’ll be sharing with you today is purely based off my personal experiences with shin splints. It’s a collection of all the mistakes I made, the tips I received and how I’ve managed to keep my shin splints at bay (for now). Please do not use this as a replacement for proper, qualified advice. Make sure you go to see a professional who can guide you and make sure you’re not at risk of provoking a more serious injury.

rest your shins!

Yep, you’ve heard it before, and I know for a fact that you’re probably groaning right now after reading that one dreaded word. I avoided it for as long as possible, and in return got very close to a stress fracture. Thankfully the key words in that sentence are very close to. However, when my physio prescribed me to take a break off running, he told me two weeks. And in those two weeks I made sure to swim, strengthen and cross train to ensure I didn’t lose too much fitness or muscle memory.

back to basics

I wrote in my post entitled more miles aren’t always better that I’d reduced my training from 5 to 3 runs per week. I’ve been doing that for about 2 months now and haven’t noticed any reduction in my fitness. All I’ve noticed is that my shins are thanking me for doing a manageable weekly volume of training, and I’m able to up the intensity in each session due to less muscle fatigue. I know that reading a professional athlete’s training plan where they’re running 6 days a week with 2 double run days can make it hard to be sensible, but it’s so important to remember that they’re a) professionals, which means they have a whole team of people sorting everything out for them, b) probably older and c) therefore stronger.

running on grass and other soft surfaces is a good measure to take too

stop comparing

I always used to compare my training to other young athletes and feel demoralised when I realised mine was significantly less than theirs. So I’ve made a conscious effort to stop doing what makes me feel low. Easier said than done, and I occasionally do do it. But I’m feeling more confident in my training and the fact that I’m doing what works for me and my shins. Now, I’ve been able to focus on myself, my rehab and my progress.

strengthen

So, onto the activity-based tips. My physio gave me a full set of exercises to complete twice-weekly to help strengthen my calves and general leg muscles. Again, I’m no expert whatsoever, however from my understanding:

  • an increased calf-muscle circumference (aka stronger calves) leads to a significant reduction in the chances of shin splints or other associated injuries.
  • having weak gluteus (glute) muscles can force your shins to act as shock absorbers instead of your glutes, firing more stress through them. Strengthening the glutes can therefore help reduce aggravation on the shins.
  • having tight leg muscles in general and poor stability can increase the strain placed on the shins, so general conditioning and flexibility work can help more than they can harm. I foam roll for 5-10 minutes daily and have a full-body 10 minute evening stretching routine.

Head over to my physio’s section on shin pain by clicking here. He has pretty much all you need to know and is one of the best physios out there. It’s really worth having a browse through his blog as he has professional, qualified information and no nonsense.

stretching daily is also very beneficial

The exercises

An example of some exercises my physio gave me can be seen here. However, these are the ones that I’ve found the most beneficial and easiest to fit into my weekly schedule:

  1. Calf raises (weighted; I do mine single leg from a step)
  2. Bent leg calf raises
  3. Side-lying leg raises (with resistance band)
  4. Clams (with resistance band)
  5. Single leg glute bridges (weighted; start without a bench and as you get stronger do from bench)
  6. Single leg squats (weighted; I perform with a bench behind me in case I lose balance)
  7. Bulgarian split squats (weighted)
  8. Goblet squats (with weight and resistance band around knees)

Unfortunately I haven’t had time to film this workout, however I’m planning on doing that at some point to help you out.

although not physically beneficial, compression socks can have a mental benefit when running (at least I find I perceive the pain to be reduced even if it isn’t)

cross-train

After reducing your running, you’ll find yourself with more time on your hands. To supplement your running, I strongly recommend cross-training 2-3 times a week depending on your schedule. It’s a completely non-impact way of getting a session in, and will challenge different muscle groups so is a great way of making you a well-rounded athlete. More specifically, swimming has been incredible for increasing my fitness and endurance, allowing me to really push myself in the pool without either aggravating my shins or fatiguing me too much for my running sessions. I also occasionally use the elliptical trainer as it closely resembles running.

pain reduction

I thought I’d round off the post by saying that, if you really do have to run due to an important race, then KT tape and Ibuprofen gels are good short term fixes. Try running on grass/ soft surfaces where possible to reduce direct impact on your shins too. Compression socks are not scientifically proven to help at all, but I find that they have a placebo effect so I feel less paranoid whilst racing.  It can be one less thing to worry about during an important race, but don’t use these as long term solutions. Your shins need proper attention!

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Sorry that this post has ended up being so long, but there was so much to write! I hope you’ve found it useful and let me know what works for you – it might be completely different to what’s worked for me!

Emma ♥♥