Posted by: Dean Hebert | December 17, 2008

Training: Dealing with Shin Splints and Shin Pain

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

A reader named Angie poses a frequently asked question to us:

I have a question regarding shin splints. How bad should they hurt? I guess the better question is how much pain should one run through? And any quick fixes you know of? HELP!

Shin splints are caused for a reason. Most often it’s running too much or too fast, too soon. Rest alone rarely is the cure. It is a temporary relief.

Let’s address pain first. If they are very painful, you need to rule out a stress fracture. You should see your doctor and have them take x-rays of your legs if the pain is really bad. You should also watch out for pain in one very specific spot when touching your shin. With shin splints, the pain is usually fairly even across the whole shin. Often with stress fractures, the pain is located in one identifiable spot along the bone that you’ll feel with your finger.

Let’s assume you do not have a stress fracture for the sake of argument: If the pain hurts sufficiently to change your gait — meaning it makes you favor one leg over the other, limp, etc. — you are asking for lots more trouble than just shin splints because you will end up with compensatory injuries along with shin issues. Stop now. Get in to see your doctor or physical therapist. Get healed up and then get back to running.

If your shins hurt while running but the pain is manageable — meaning the pain does not alter your running form — then you do the following: rest, ice, and take anti-inflammatories for the pain. In addition, you should start doing strengthening exercises for the anterior tibialis (the shin muscle) and stretches that include the shin, ankle and even quads (any muscle group that is tight and could be “pulling on” your lower leg).

Other things you can try: different shoes, different running surfaces, omit speed work (for some people this aggravates shin splints yet for others it relieves them), omit hills, omit long runs. Any of these actions may help, but the bottom line with shin splints is that you need to figure out what is causing the problem and then correct that issue. If the problem is that you have tight muscles in your calves, then stretching will help. If the problem is that you’re wearing the wrong shoes, then new shoes will help. The trick with shin splints in to figure out what’s at the root of the problem and go from there. Start trying some of these things and you’ll get to the bottom of it.

We should note that there are people who will never get shin splints. There are also people who get shin splints and then never have them again. And there are some people who are chronically afflicted by shin splints. For chronic sufferers I recommend seeing a podiatrist and experimenting with orthotics. As well, a rigorous routine of strengthening and stretching prior to going back to running or in conjunction with a light running program. Once the underlying cause is addressed you can return to running.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News


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