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11 Tips to Prevent Shin Splints when Running

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT November 22, 2019 0 Comments

woman massaging her shin

When it comes to any type of body pain, prevention is always the best option. This is of particular importance with shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome. Once you have them, it most likely requires rest time that you may not be able to afford if you are trying to stay fit or train for a race. Keep reading to learn how to prevent shin splints with these 11 tips.

1. Build Speed and Distance Gradually

Your body is great at adapting to whatever challenges you put it up to. However, trying to do too much at once can lead to burnout and injury. For any running, jumping, or walking program, this is especially true for preventing shin splint pain. This is why the 10% rule is highly recommended, whether you are just beginning or trying to progress your routine. It simply means that you shouldn’t increase your mileage more than 10% per week. For other forms of exercise, such as plyometrics and interval training, use this same rule but apply it in terms of the time and intensity of your workout instead.

2. Improve Running Technique

Shin splints are a common running injury. While running, it is generally best to land midsole and roll forward to the ball of the foot and toes. Avoid landing on the heels or toes to significantly decrease strain on the shin bone. To land midfoot, this generally requires shorter strides and a slightly faster cadence (how many steps you take in a minute).

Shorter strides and a faster cadence are two of the easiest ways to adjust your form to minimize the strain your body endures from running. However, each of us has unique qualities that need to be addressed to further optimize our form. For more personal recommendations, consider consulting with a physical therapist.

Other important factors for your form include:

  • Ankle and foot range of motion
  • Knee alignment
  • Hip alignment
  • Spine alignment
  • Lower body strength
  • Core strength
  • Lower body coordination

3. Find Footwear with Arch Support

Improved shock absorption is an important part of preventing and treating shin splints. A well fitting running shoe (or orthotics) that provides additional cushioning and support can help. Foot alignment can also play a large role in the onset of shin pain.

For particular foot problems, orthotics are a great option.

  • Stiff Arch or Ankle

    Each joint in the body is made to have a unique, optimized balance between stiffness and flexibility. This allows the proper amount of shock absorption and stability to complete daily tasks efficiently and without injury. When the arch of the foot, or the entire ankle itself, doesn’t move fluidly as it should, it forces the surrounding tissues to constantly fight against this tension. With this type of lower body dysfunction, a semi-rigid supportive insole is recommended.

  • Flat Feet or a Hypermobile Foot and Ankle

    On the other side of the spectrum, too much mobility in the lower leg can also lead to problems (such as over-pronation of the ankle). When there is too much movement in the foot and ankle with weight-bearing, local muscles and connective tissue must work extra hard to provide adequate support. A stiff shoe insert that provides heel and arch support can help to minimize this strain.

    Click here to learn more about choosing the right pair of insoles for you.

4. Softer Surfaces

The type of ground that you run or jump on directly correlates to the amount of force that is going through your lower leg and body every time you land with your foot. Thus, running on hard surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, can be a lot more detrimental to the body than running on dirt, grass, or a running track.

If running on harder surfaces is your only choice, make sure to be extra mindful of your running form to minimize strain caused by bad landing techniques. Otherwise, when possible try to choose softer surfaces to run on to give your legs a break (at least on occasion). Also, consider running on a treadmill. It tends to be a lower impact because you will take smaller strides (a way to decrease impact).

5. Warm-Up Before Exercise

Warming up before exercise has two primary benefits. It elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to your muscles to get the body ready for higher intensity work. This can help prevent muscle injury and maximize your workout potential. A good warm-up doesn’t necessarily mean stretching (unless you are feeling stiff). Anything to get your heart pumping and body warm are a good place to start, such as briskly walking, jogging or even massage.

6. Incorporate Cross-Training

While exercise is great for the body, too much of one specific movement can quickly become a problem. Repetitive overuse injuries occur when specific tissues don’t get the necessary time to recover. This is why cross-training is a must for any regular training program. Cross-training is a way to complement your current routine without the risk of overuse. Consider adding lower impact activities and weight training to your weekly plan that focus on core and hip strength.

When you cross-train, strength training should be a normal part of your exercise routine to balance muscles that are commonly neglected with your specific sport. For example, back, shoulder, and butt exercises are a great addition to a running regime. Consider adding a general strength and stretching program for the feet and ankles too. This helps promote proper balance, strength, and flexibility in these “high traffic” areas. Research shows that a balanced program for promoting lower body stabilization can minimize the risk of shin splints.

Shin Splint Exercises and Stretches

7. Take Time to Rest

Recovery is just as important as the time you spend exercising. If you are dealing with shin splints, you should initially take time to fully rest your legs from the activity that caused the problem. However, rest doesn’t mean you can’t do anything, rather it means incorporating lower intensity days that include:

  • Strengthening
  • Cross-training
  • Stretching
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Biking

For running, it is generally recommended to avoid running two days in a row (especially if you’re new to it). If you are more practiced or fit, you can decide what running volume is right for you, but do try to vary your intensity and mileage. No matter what you decide, make sure you are taking adequate time to rest to prevent progression to more serious issues such as stress fracture or compartment syndrome.

8. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight causes a significant increase in body strain with all daily activities. This only magnifies with higher impact exercises such as running and jumping. If you need to lose weight, take the time to start your fitness routine slowly and progress the intensity gradually. This will help you gain all the benefits of exercise and weight loss without dealing with unnecessary problems, such as pain, along the way. Each person is unique in their body composition, so keep in mind that weight doesn’t tell all (after all, muscle weighs more than fat). It may be even more useful to seek medical care and get your fat composition assessed. For men, a healthy body fat percentage is 5-20%, for females it should be 15-30%.

9. Get More Calcium and Vitamin D

You need Calcium and vitamin D for strong and healthy bones. Plus, low vitamin D has been correlated to chronic pain issues. Foods that contain a high source of calcium include seeds, dairy, canned sardines or salmon, almonds, spinach, collards, and spinach. Vitamin D rich foods include seafood, egg yolks, and mushrooms. If you aren’t getting enough from your diet, consider supplements with up to 1300 mg of calcium and 400 micrograms of vitamin D per day.

10. Monitor Pain and Symptoms

Listening to your body is always the most important step when approaching injury prevention. It can be easy to tune out what your body is telling you when you have health goals in mind and are trying to push yourself. However, make sure you take note of new soreness and pains and address them sooner rather than later. This can help prevent things from progressing to more serious issues. It’s much better to take a rest day (or two) to address new symptoms, potentially taking the time to start simple treatments like ice and massage. Don’t ignore your pain and have to deal with it later as a bigger problem.

Make sure you know the difference between types of pain:

Some muscle soreness and joint stiffness are expected with exercise. However, make sure you know the difference between normal muscle and joint pain from use versus the onset of a new injury. If pain lasts more than 24 hours, is moderate to severe, and is limiting your normal activities, there might be something more going on. Stop and take the time to take care of yourself, your body will thank you!

How to Ice Shin Splints

How to Relieve Shin Splints with Massage

Foam Rolling for Shin Splints

11. Talk to a Physical Therapist or Biomechanics Specialist

If you are unsure of where to start with your fitness routine or worry that you are at high risk for developing shin splints, consider getting help from a medical professional, such as a physical therapist. They can help assess flexibility, muscle balance, muscle coordination, and assess form for running, walking, and other daily activities. They can then work with you to create an individualized program to prevent shin splints and any other problems you may encounter.

Staying Ahead of Shin Splints

Pain from shin splints can impact your daily routine and exercise regimen. If you commonly suffer from shin splints, it’s important to take preventative action. Treat sore areas right away and keep these 11 simple tips in mind to keep shin splints at bay.


Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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