The Dreaded “Shin Splints”
Running and shin splints. They are an all too common pairing. Why? And what is an aching runner to do?
What are shin splints?
Shin splints are one of the most common running injuries, afflicting both experienced and especially less experienced runners. If you’re struggling through shin splints, you’re most certainly not alone. I spoke with Emmi Aguillard, DPT, from Finish Line Physical Therapy to dive deeper into this prevalent overuse injury.
“Shin splints” is a slang term for the medical diagnosis: medial tibial stress syndrome. It occurs when the muscles, tendons, and bones around the shin get inflamed. The muscle begins to pull away from the shinbone and creates micro fractures in the bone.
There are varying grades of shin splints. If they fall into the “mild” category, your body will be able to recover quickly on its own and the ache will likely go away by the end of a run. If they progress into something that you can feel throughout the entire run, feels localized to a specific area that you can pinpoint, and/or persist when you are at rest, then this may indicate you’re at risk for a stress reaction or a stress fracture. If a runner finds themself in this advanced, spot-specific stage, it could mean a couple weeks or even months off of running, and the sufferer should consult a health professional.
To minimize the risk of shin splints and their progression either before or beyond the mild stage, try rotating your shoe type and/or running surface, especially when you first notice discomfort. If a maximum of two weeks has gone by without any improvement, it’s likely time to significantly reduce training load and/or consult someone like Emmi at Finish Line PT.
What are some preliminary questions you should be asking yourself?
When you’re finding a way to improve the symptoms of shin splints, one of the first places to look is in your footwear.
When’s the last time you got a new pair of shoes?
Steve Crnic from our Brooklyn Running Co. staff says that the rule of thumb is that you should be updating your footwear at least once every six months for recreational runners, and ideally every 300-500 miles (if you’re tracking your mileage closely). Pro tip: write the date you purchased your shoe on the underside of your insole with a Sharpie. This “expiration date” will vary depending upon your type stride, how you use your shoes, climate, and the type of shoe you’re wearing. For a deeper dive into this topic, check out as prior BRCo article: How Long Do Running Shoes Last?
Are you wearing your shoes for activities outside of just running?
You may only have 100 miles on your shoes according to your smartwatch, but if you are also wearing them to go to the grocery store, on walks, and/or going about daily tasks, then you may need to replace your shoes much sooner than you think. Pro tip: look for wrinkles in the foam that don’t go away. Shoes age too!
What can I do to prevent the onset of shin splints?
Incorporating glute strength and activation exercises along with hip mobility into your pre-run routine can help decrease the workload put on the calves, according to Emmi Aguillard, while drills and strengthening of the ankle muscles can help increase resilience locally. For more specific routines, we encourage you to work with a physical therapist or a coach.
What to look for in a shoe to help with shin splints:
Cushion: In general, shoes with more cushioning tend to be effective for runners that are prone to shin splints as more minimalist types of shoes can contribute to increased shin splint symptoms. Cushioning doesn’t work in all instances though, as a soft shoe could lead to a heavier landing on the heel. Crnic suggests getting your gait analyzed -virtually or in person- at a specialty running store like Brooklyn Running Co. for the best way to know what’s right for you.
Arch Support: If you overpronate (putting a relatively disproportionate amount of weight onto the insides of your feet), it will put more pressure on the posterior tibialis (a muscle on the interior of the calf) which can contribute to shin splints. Shoes with a wedge or thicker foam to prop up your arches can keep your foot stable so that it moves forward through the gait cycle versus leaning in on internal rotation. Insoles should also be considered as an option if deemed appropriate during a professional fitting process.
Rocker Affect: Shin splints are exasperated by impact on the ground. Every time you strike the ground with your foot, you absorb three to five times your own body weight. By finding a shoe that has a rocker affect, you may help minimize ground contact and spend more time propelling yourself forward.
Correct Sizing: There should be half a thumbnail distance between your toes and the front of your shoe and ample toe box width so that your digits have room to splay out with each step. This is how your body most efficiently absorbs shock. Your feet tend to swell up as you run (a natural process) and if the foot swells with no space to go, the inflammation can go up into the calf, contributing to shin splints.
What other tools may assist?
The Stick – This is a great tool for shin splints. It’s easier to use than a foam roller (for the shin area) and is highly effective at circulating the blood around your calves.
Compression Sleeves – Grabbing a pair of these can assist in promoting better blood flow. It flushes out inflammation and pushes blood back to the heart to get reoxygenated and support better recovery. You can wear these before running to assist with avoiding blood pooling in your lower extremities (think of all that sedentary work from home time), while running or, what may be most productive, after running for recovery.
The best thing you can do as a runner is ask yourself the questions above and continue to educate yourself with information from qualified sources. Focus on these two key elements:
- Think about the level of variability in how and upon what your foot (i.e. surface) impacts is key when addressing repetitive stress type injuries, which are the most common to running.
- Engage in either an in-person or virtual fitting process with a Brooklyn Running Company fitting professional who will assess your gait and recommend the perfect shoe to make you a healthier and more efficient runner.
- Work with a PT like Emmi at Finish Line on both pre-hab and re-hab elements of your training.
By Kara Dudley