[An updated and more comprehensive Shin Splints article has been written following up on the article below. The updated article can be found here.]
The topic of shin splints comes up a lot on the Runner's World forums. It's a frequent malady for new and experienced runners alike. Frequently shin splints result from advancing your running too quickly (either mileage or speed) and not giving your body a chance to adapt. The shins ache; typically over a portion of the lower leg. (As opposed to having pain in a very specific location, which can be indicative of a stress fracture.) Shin splints can happen in either one or both legs.
While shin splints are quite common, they can be confused with other much more serious injuries. Stress fractures and compartment syndrome can have similar symptoms. Most importantly, see your doctor so you're sure you're not dealing with something really serious.
OK, so you know you have shin splints and they need to be treated. When I've had shin splints I've followed the following regimen and it has worked beautifully:
- Rest. Notice I didn't say "Stop running." But you do need to cut back enough to let your shins rest and be not so stressed. Sometimes sufficient rest does equate to not running. But I don't think everyone needs to start there.
- Ice. Ice them as much as you can; 3-4 times per day is great. Be really careful when icing your shins. The skin is thin and it can be easy to get an ice burn.
- Strengthen. Building stronger shin muscles will help alleviate the condition. Hang a weight from your foot. A plastic grocery bag with 1-2 soup cans in it works great. Now sit on a stool or counter so your foot is off the floor. Moving the foot only at the ankle, raise and lower the weight so you work the muscles on the front of the shin. I do 3 sets of 10 reps; 2 times per day.
- Stretch. Keep your calves stretched and loose. A foam roller works well. The standard calf stretches can be found using Google. I recently wrote a blog entry on Active Isolated Stretching, which is another alternative to keep your muscles loose.
Doing this for 1-2 weeks should help a lot.