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Bouncing Back From Shin Splints: Tips for Relief and Prevention

Do you find yourself skipping exercise lately because of aches in your shins? If you do, you’re not alone. Shin splints can be a real buzzkill for athletes, fitness enthusiasts and those who are just active every day. 

But don’t worry, we’ve got your back (or rather, your shins). Understand what shin splints are, how to deal with them and, most importantly, how to prevent them so you can keep moving.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, are pains along the shinbone (tibia) that run down the inner edge or front of your lower leg. 

“It is usually more severe at the start of a run or activity and improves with warming up and stretching,” said Kaleigh Suhs, DO, an orthopedic sports medicine specialist with Banner Health. “However, if it isn’t recognized and treated, the symptoms can stick around during exercise and become painful during everyday activities and when resting.”

Common symptoms include:

  • A dull or aching pain along the inner shinbone 
  • Shin is tender to the touch
  • Possible swelling and warmth in the affected area
  • Increased pain during physical activity, like running or jumping

Causes and risk factors

Most people who get shin splints are high-impact athletes, runners, cheerleaders, gymnasts and military personnel. They are common early in a sports season when people start or intensify training.

“Shin splints are often caused by overuse or repetitive activities,” Dr. Suhs said. “It is this repetitive action that can cause inflammation of your muscles, tendons and tissues that cover your shin bones.”

Besides exercise, shin splints can also be caused by:

  • Surfaces: Changing surfaces – like the soccer field to the basketball court – can lead to shin splints if the new surface is harder or more uneven. 
  • Improper footwear: Wearing shoes that lack proper support and cushioning or using worn-out shoes can increase your risk for shin splints.
  • Body mechanics: If you have flat feet, your feet overpronate or your legs are slightly different lengths, it can put extra strain on your shins. 
  • Previous injury: If you have a history of shin splints, you will likely get them again.
  • Skip warm-up or cool-down: Skipping warm-up exercises or stretching after physical activity can increase your risk of shin splints.

Diagnosis and treatment

Pain or swelling in your shins can have many causes, so don’t try to walk it off. That’s why it’s important to see your health care provider or an orthopedic sports medicine specialist who can give you a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Sometimes, you may need an X-ray or bone scan to rule out another condition, like a stress fracture. 

In some cases, you can find ways to heal your shin splints fast at home with the four-step R-I-C-E method:

  • Rest: Give your shins a break by avoiding activities that hurt.
  • Ice: Use ice packs to ease pain and swelling. Apply them for about 15 minutes a few times a day.
  • Compress: Wrap your shins with bandages or wear compression sleeves to reduce swelling.
  • Elevate: Put your feet up to decrease blood flow and reduce swelling.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) medications like ibuprofen will also help decrease the overall pain and swelling. Follow the instructions on the back of the NSAID packaging.

Do gentle stretches and exercises to make your calf and shin muscles stronger and more flexible. When your shins feel better, slowly ease your way back into activities, starting with low-intensity exercises.

If your pain continues or gets worse, see your provider. They may recommend additional treatments like physical therapy, custom orthotics, walking boots or braces.

“Physical therapy can use different methods to ease pain and swelling, like stretching, soft tissue and myofascial massage and exercises to stabilize your ankles,” Dr. Suhs said. “You may also have a gait analysis to check if how you walk or run is causing or making the problem worse. It’s also really important to strengthen your core and gluteal muscles.”

Prevention is key

Shin splints can sometimes be avoided with proper precautions. Here are a few things you can do every day to prevent shin splints down the road:

  • Wear proper footwear: Purchase shoes with good support, cushioning and shock absorption for your activity. Well-fitted shoes with semi-rigid arch support can reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Replace your shoes as they wear down.
  • Increase activity slowly: Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your physical activity. “No more than a 10% increase in training load per week,” Dr. Suhs said. “This allows your body to adapt to the demands placed on it.”
  • Cross-train: Mix up your workouts to avoid overloading the same muscles repeatedly. Try low-impact activities like swimming or cycling.
  • Warm-up and cool-down: Always warm up before starting your workout and cool down afterward. 
  • Stretch: Perform regular stretching and strengthening exercises for the muscles in your lower legs, including the calves, shins and ankles. This can help improve flexibility and reduce the risk of muscle imbalance, which can contribute to shin splints.
  • Choose softer surfaces: If possible, choose softer surfaces like grass, dirt trails or tracks to reduce the repetitive stress on your shins.


Shin splints can slow you down, but with proper care and prevention, you’ll be back on your feet in no time. Remember to listen to your body, ease into new activities and invest in good shoes to keep shin splints at bay.  

See your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist if you have pain and swelling that doesn’t go away. Here’s to pain-free shins and more active days ahead.

For more fitness-related content, check out:

Sports Medicine Orthopedics Fitness Pain Management