Healing Shin Splints

Tamsen Butler
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Man's shin

If you have experienced pain or swelling in your lower leg, you should probably research healing shin splints in order to get relief from this exercise-induced condition. Fortunately, you can easily find ways to relieve your discomfort with home care.

Shin Splint Recovery Methods

Avid exercisers will likely be disappointed to learn that rest is one of the best ways to recover from shin splints. Pushing through the pain and continuing to exercise as normal will likely only make the condition worse. Shin splints can take up to 3-6 months to heal completely, and in serious instances, won't heal without medical intervention.

Rest

The most important method of healing shin splints is rest. If your body is injured, it needs time to heal. It is perhaps unfortunate that when you incur a leg injury, you must refrain from exercise. Your rest period will be determined by the severity of the injury and your body's ability to recover. Sometimes, treatment may involve bed rest in order to completely heal. You should plan on (at least) one week of rest.

Ice

If your leg is swollen, you can apply ice to reduce swelling and relieve pain. Place an ice pack on the affected area for 20 minutes, twice a day. You should make sure and wrap your ice pack in a towel. Your object is to cool the area, not to freeze it. Using ice uses your body's physiological response to cold in order to reduce your swelling.

Epsom Salt Bath

More to relieve swelling and pain, an Epsom salt bath can bring some relief to the pain associated with shin splints and may speed recovery.

Pain Medications

In addition to ice, you can also take a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. These medications will reduce pain caused by swelling and put you on the road to healing shin splints. Be sure and follow the label directions for dosage.The important thing to remember when using either ice or medications is to continue with your rest. These measures may temporarily relieve pain making you feel better, yet the actual recovery time will take longer.

Massage

Any massage done in attempts to relieve shin splint pain should be done by a licensed massage therapist well-versed in sports science massage. The therapist will likely focus on relieving muscular pressure in the shins to help the shin splints heal in conjunction with ample rest.

Shin massage

Compression

Compression sleeves help reduce swelling and increase blood flow. Though these sleeves will not necessarily heal existing shin splints, they will help prevent future shin splints and make runs and other exercise more comfortable.

Taping Shin Splints

Along the same line as compression, taping shin splints can provide some relief and support. Neither compression nor taping should be viewed as a way to push through the pain - shin splints won't heal if you don't allow for some rest from the activities initially causing the condition in the first place.

Causes of Shin Splints

Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is caused by overuse of your shin muscles through exercising too much or too intensely for your body. You may experience pain or tenderness in the inner or outer side of the front of your leg, often affecting your tibialis anterior muscle on the front of your lower leg. Sometimes, the pain can actually originate from the bone itself.

Runners are often at risk for shin splints. When you jog or run, you are placing enormous pressure on your leg muscles and joints. If you ramp up your program, you increase your risk. This is not to say that you should not engage in these types of aerobic activities. It is an important lesson about physical fitness that you must learn; listen to your body.

Risk Factors That Need Medical Treatment

Rest and other treatment options should heal your shin splints. If you are not experiencing improvement after several weeks of home care, consult your doctor. While your symptoms may mimic shin splints, your condition may be more serious.

When to Seek Medical Care

Typically, the pain of shin splints occurs when you either palpate the affected area or are actively using your leg muscles. If you find that you are in constant leg pain, likewise, plan on seeing your doctor. Rather than shin splints, you may have a stress fracture.

Returning to Running

Your medical provider should tell you when you can return to running - or whatever exercise led to the shin splints. As every instance is unique, there is no hard-and-fast rule about how long you need to wait before returning to activity. When you are cleared to return, take some precautions to avoid a recurrence:

  • Avoid high-impact exercises, particularly those on hard floor or concrete.
  • Use compression sleeves or taping.
  • Ample warm ups and cool downs are a good idea, as is ample stretching.
  • Look into shoe inserts specifically designed to prevent shin splints.
  • When tolerated, add some strength-building exercises to help you avoid shin splints in the future.

Preventing Shin Splints

The best way to prevent shin splints is to know your limitations. Ease into new or more intense activity slowly to give your body time to adjust. If you are planning to increase your speed, distance, or frequency of activity, do so gradually, especially if you are new to these workouts. Most importantly, do not exercise through the pain of shin splints. If you do, there is a risk that you will do further damage. You may also assume an unnatural posture while exercising which can place additional strain on your muscles or joints.

Healing Shin Splints