Shin Splints: Causes, Prevention & Recovery

Shin splints were by far the biggest issue I had whilst training for my first marathon in 2016. Unfortunately, I didn't even know they were a common symptom of running until it was too late, and all I could do was rest. So, I'd love to share my knowledge that I've gained since suffering and how I work every day to prevent shin splints when I'm running. 

So what are shin splints? 

The term "shin splints" is used to describe any pain along the shin bone that gets worse with exercise. A more scientific term often used is "medial tibial stress syndrome". 

What causes shin splints? 

There are plenty of things that can cause shin splints, and the obvious cause for those training for a marathon is the increase in activity levels. As well as a general increase in activity level, for example, if you've just started running; changing your pace can also cause shin splints too. If your body's not used to running on hard surfaces, switching from a treadmill to running on the pavement can also lead to shin splints. 

The one cause that I think led to my shin splints was unfortunately, my flat feet and overpronation, as well as my tight calves. This is a common cause of shin splints, and not something I even thought would effect my shins until I started my prevention, combatting these areas which actually helped my shin splints a lot. 

So how can you prevent shin splints? 

First things first, make sure you have appropriate running shoes. You should replace running shoes every 300-500 miles, so if you've already covered that in your shoes, it's time to get a new pair! If you're just starting off, don't assume it's going to be comfortable simply running in your primark plimsoles. I would suggest getting a gait-analysis test. This involves going to a local running shop where they offer the tests, running on a treadmill and having someone record your running style. The gait-analysis will tell you whether you over or under-pronate when you run. If you over-pronate, this can be a cause for shin splints in itself (as listed above) so it's important you have adequate trainers and support to prevent over-pronation, and ultimately prevent shin splints. Strengthening exercises for your ankles and lower legs can help to prevent any issues too. 

It's definitely best to put these preventative measures in order, so you're not having to treat them. 

But, if you've already got shin splints. What's the best thing to do to recover? 

Ice. Popping a cold compress or ice pack on your shins will help alleviate any pain quite quickly. Holding it on your shins for around 10-20 minutes, a couple of times a day should help to treat your tibia. 

Rest. As with pretty much every other running injury, rest is always one of the most recommended treatments. I know that whilst marathon training, especially if you're a few months in, you'll want to keep training - but do try and resist. In the worst cases you may need to stop running for a month or two. It's super important to get yourself rested before getting back to running, you don't want to do any further damage. 

Stretching. Making stretching a regular part of your day is also a great shout to get your shins back to normal. Focussing on your calves and hamstrings whilst stretching will help to protect your calves. 

Physiotherapist. If you're not able to rest/ice/stretch the shin splints out, it's a good idea to go and speak with a professional. A physiotherapist may be able to design a strengthening, stretching or training plan to help get you on the mend and prepare for race day.