Nearly 20% of runners will report problems with shin pain. Not only is this a prevalent issue, but it’s one that is frequently approached in the wrong way. Many athletes assume that the issue lies in a weakness of the shin muscle (anterior tibialis), but this is commonly not the case. While using bands to strengthen this muscle may improve your ability to flex the toes towards the knee, it’s likely not going to fix the root of the problem.
In other words, one of the most popular treatment techniques is flat-out unproductive and irrelevant to shin splint rehab.
Don’t worry, however. Getting you back on track doesn’t have to be rocket science. Outlined below are 5 tips for shin splint rehab/management. You may be surprised at just how easy it can be to restore health to the shins. We’ve been making this process way harder than it has to be, but it’s never too late to turn this ship around.
It’s time to let go of the notion that you have shin splints because your shin muscle is weak. You probably have shin splints from training mistakes or other external factors that can be fixed with a better structured training program. — Jason Fitzgerald
5 Tips To Alleviate Your Shin Splints
First of all, this post will be more focused on solutions rather than the causes of this condition. If you want a deep dive on all things shin splints, I have you covered here. Secondly, this is mainly targeted towards runners, but other athletes will still find this very relevant.
As always, this is by no means an end-all-be-all list, but rather the important highlights. All individual cases will be different, so please check in with your health professional if you have a history of shin splints, or are at all concerned with the advice below. While I’m not guaranteeing that this will magically heal all of your symptoms, I do know that over time, each strategy will leave you further along the path to recovery than when you started.
1) Change your shoes
There are two reasons why your shoes may be holding you back from healthy shins. One, if you haven’t invested in proper running shoes, you’re at a great disadvantage. This is especially key for new participants who aren’t conditioned to the joint stresses of running. No, sneakers won’t cut it here!
Secondly, far too many of us are training with shoes that are well beyond their life cycle. Depending on your event/surface/equipment, you should aim to switch out footwear every 300-400 miles. While this can get pricy, it’s well worth the investment for your long-term health. If you’re curious about your particular shoe’s lifespan, simply head to your local running store and ask a specialist.
2) Mix up the running surface
Running solely on the pavement is a poor idea for most runners. Ideally, you should have a mix between roads, trails, grass, and/or track. Not only do these surfaces allow for a softer cushion for your training, but they also hold irregularities that can cause you to become a more robust runner. This point cannot be overlooked as we often blame injuries on form or anatomical deficiencies. More often than not, we can also improve outcomes by simply adjusting the training environment around us.
3) Avoid overtraining
There are three important takeaways from this point. One, don’t train hard every single day. Take time to perform long, slow runs and implement rest days into your weekly regime. Two, listen to your body — it’s the best tool you have going for you. If we’re too focused on achieving a certain mileage, we’re very good at dulling the signals that are telling us something is up. To help build awareness around this, try keeping a training log and reflect on how your body feels after each workout.
Finally, think long and hard about the ‘why’ behind your training. Are you training with an efficient and relevant program for your goals and events? If you’re unsure, it may be time to see a running coach or educated personal trainer.
4) Be patient with progressions
If you’re dramatically increasing the volume or intensity of your workouts, you’re at a far greater risk for injury. The reality is, the body needs time to adapt to your current training load…it simply can’t jump from 0 to 100. As a general rule of thumb, avoid increasing your volume/intensity by more than 10% each week. Play the long game and trust that your patience will pay off with pain-free running for many years to come.
5) Lift weights and train mobility!
One of the most overlooked solutions to running injuries is weight lifting and mobility work. While shin splints aren’t usually caused by weak shins, they can certainly be affected by instability through the ankle, knee, hip, spine, and more. Movements such as deadlifts, squats, lunges, and hip openers can all go a long way to improving your performance on the roads. Furthermore, cross-training in the gym will do you wonders from an overall injury standpoint. If you’re curious about good strength/mobility exercises for runners, I have you covered here and here.
Talk to a professional running coach about your form
Cross-train with other, more low-impact sports
Seek out a physiotherapist for individualized rehab exercises
Consider slightly decreasing your weight if you’re overweight
Avoid overstriding by increasing your cadence (step rate)
Shin splint rehab has been greatly overcomplicated and misunderstood. The reality is, we don’t need to be focusing on strengthening the shin itself. While that may have a minor effect, the most impactful results will come when we make lifestyle/gear adjustments. Be patient with your workouts and trust that adhering to evidence-based strategies will pay off. In the end, shin splint management and recovery can be summarized in one sentence…
If you want to take care of your shins, as well as the whole body, invest in proper equipment and train with the long game in mind.