How to Prevent and Cope with Shin Splints

How to Prevent and Cope with Shin Splints - Shin Splints

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints, medically known as tibial stress syndrome, is the term used to refer to the pain felt anywhere along the shin bone.

The exact reason pain is felt in the shins is unknown. Some studies believe it could be caused by tendons and muscles that run the length of the shin pulling on the bone and creating additional inflammation, others have shown it could be a stress reaction from the bone.

How to Prevent and Cope with Shin Splints - Shin Splints

How do we get them?

Shin splints are most commonly reported by people who play sports that involve a lot of running.

Shin splints can be caused by several factors working in a combination together and these may include:

Overuse and Incorrect technique

Shin splints can be caused by overuse of the muscles on your shin bone. The most common cause is overuse in training. It is also thought that pain can come from increased stress (physical from training load as well as emotional/psychological stress, increases in weight, some strength related factors)

Common overtraining mistakes are:

  • Increasing your training too quickly either by suddenly running more frequently, or as a big jump in the total number of kilometres per week.
  • Insufficient rest between training sessions

Biomechanical factors include: While you “Can’t go wrong with getting strong”, it’s erroneous to attribute pain to weakness. Getting stronger can reduce symptoms of pain, and heel strikers can report shin splints more frequently than midfoot strikers. Over pronators don’t necessarily report higher incidence of shin splints. Improving the strength of hips, quads, hamstrings, calves and foot muscles can help towards improving symptoms.

  • Overpronation of your feet
  • Decreased flexibility in your ankle joint
  • Poor hip-knee leg muscle control
  • Poor stability
  • Tight calf muscles or hamstrings
  • Weak quadriceps
  • Weak foot arch muscles

While pain does not mean there is tissue damage, tissue damage CAN be the cause of pain. Here are some of the structures that may be involved if an injury has occurred:


As a result of overuse, your lower leg muscle may become overworked, this can result in tenderness, inflammation and pain.


All your bones are covered in an outer layer of dense connective tissue or “shell” called periosteum. There are tendons that attach to the bone and the part of the tendon that meets the bone is called tenoperiosteum. When calf and leg muscles become tight, they can cause the tenoperiosteum to pull on the periosteum of the shin bone. This is the area where you may have increased inflammation which in turn can cause increased pain in areas of your shin.


Pain and damage to your shin bone is usually concentrated to the lower part of the tibia. Damage could  be a stress fracture due to overuse which may require more investigation and an X-ray would need to be performed.

Flat feet

So – what are flat feet?

When a foot is pointed in the air or flat on the ground, there is a definite arch and the inside edge of the foot never touches the ground.  People with flat feet don’t have this arch and the inside edge of the foot will be flat to the ground.  You can see if you suffer from flat feet by simply taking your shoes off and seeing if your arch touches the floor.

Now that we have discussed what flat feet are – how do they cause shin splints?

Shin splints can happen when your foot lands on the ground with greater force than what your body is prepared to support. The muscles in your legs are strong and can usually handle this strain but when your bones are impacted vertically past what your body can handle you may experience pain, achiness and swelling. Flat feet have been blamed as a possible reason for shin splints because they don’t have the springy arch to help absorb some of the impact. Not all runners with flat feet have shin splints!

High impact activities

Any vigorous activity can bring on shin splints, and they can often occur if you have just started out a new fitness program. Simple measures like easing into a training program, variation in the types of training you’re doing (such as resistance training, or dynamic resisted stretching) can often can help and making sure you don’t overdo your exercise too quickly, especially if you haven’t done any for a while.

Running shoes

Exercising with improper or worn out footwear can be a cause of shin splints. If you love to run, you need to find the right pair of running shoes. Gel cushioning will help absorb the shock and make the transition smoother for your body. The best rule to follow is to select a comfortable shoe.

How to Prevent and Cope with Shin Splints - Shin Splints

Symptoms of Shin Splints

These are the most common signs to look out for:

  • Aches and pains are felt along the shinbone
  • The area is tender and sore to touch
  • The overlying skin may be red and inflamed
  • The pain may be felt before, during or after running

How to Prevent and Cope with Shin Splints - Shin Splints

What can we do to help relieve them?

Simple measures can be taken to relieve the pain of your shin splints, with decreasing your training load and ice being a good starting point.

Some treatment options that can help to alleviate symptoms, allowing your body to heal and get you back on your feet include:

  • Immediate reduction in training load until your symptoms have settled
  • Exercises to strengthen your lower limb muscles
  • Deep tissue remedial massage
  • Joint mobilization
  • Taping
  • Orthotics
  • Footwear advice

If you are experiencing pain, achiness and tenderness in your shins it’s time to seek advice and Transcend Health can help. Our Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologist are here to help and guide you in overcoming your shin splints and get you back up and moving pain-free.  We can tailor exercise programs to help strengthen your muscles and would love to discuss your goals. We can then help with setting time frames, training schedules and plans to help you get back to your sport or exercise program as before.

Contact us today, to find out how we can help you keep moving.

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