What are Shin Splints and How Can You Prevent Them?

A brief explanation of the common running injury

The term “shin splints” is a general phrase for pain in the lower legs, which could refer to a number of actual ailments. The term often covers ailments like overworked muscles, stress fractures in the lower leg bones or even overpronation (flat feet) that could be causing pain in the lower legs. Typically, though, the term means you’re experiencing some pain in your lower legs and it’s most often an overuse injury.

Very common among runners, shin splints normally heal on their own after a period of rest, but if you’d like to avoid the pain altogether, here are a few tips.

Wear quality shoes with support. Arch support is key for keeping shin splints at bay. It’s important to know your foot and to find a shoe that fits you well. Overpronation is a major problem for those with shoes that are not supportive enough, find a specialist and get a proper fit, it’s worth it.

Add distance slowly. When new runners or runners just returning to the sport suddenly try to tackle long runs—that’s when problems occur. It’s one of the most common causes of shin splints—maybe you think you can handle 5 or 6 miles right away, but often times it’s just too much for your lower body. Start slow and build up to those longer runs; your body will thank you.

Be mindful of the surface you’re running on. If you’ve been running on a softer, more forgiving surface like sand, making the switch to a tough, more rigid surface could bring about shin pain. Limit your time running on hard surfaces if you’ve just made the switch.

Warm up properly before each run. Preparing your muscles for intense exercise is key to preventing injury.

Stretch well after each workout. Like the warm up, stretching helps to fortify muscles against future injury.

When you feel pain in your shins take a few days to rest. Pushing through the pain of shin splints will only make it feel worse and last longer. You don’t have to stop exercising completely but don’t take on more miles. Taking a few days off when you feel a bit of pain will help you avoid the worst of it.