If you have been suffering with painful shins, there is a chance that it could be shin splints. Shin splints are commonly used to describe any sort of shin pain, but shin splints are specifically caused by putting weight on your legs through exercise such as running.1
The good news is that they’re not serious and can be easily treated, with the right help. Fortunately for you – we have put together all the relevant information that you’ll need to help you recover.
Over the course of the next article you’ll find everything you need to know, from what shin splints are, how you can prevent them and how you can look after your body, before, during and after exercise.
Without pointing out the obvious, shin splits are a pain down the lower front of the leg. Otherwise known as medial tibial stress syndrome (periostitis), shin splints are often associated with exercise and is particularly common with athletes, dancers and those who work in the military.2
Medically, it’s not fully understood exactly how it happens, but its thought that repeated stress on the bone and the tissue around the tibia get inflamed, causing pain around the whole shin.
If you have shin splints, you should expect to notice aching and tenderness along the front or sides of your lower leg.
In the early stages of shin splints you may find that the pain subsides when you stop exercising. Although, eventually you’ll find that you are in quite serious, continuous pain that can progress to a stress reaction or stress fracture.3
With stress fractures, it’s likely that the pain will get worse each time you exercise. If the pain you experience from shin splints, or something you may think is worse gets too severe, you should speak to your GP or a trained physiotherapist.
Shin splints occur if you are putting too much stress and strain on your shin bone (tibia) and the tissue around it.
The bone and tissues may become inflamed if there is too much stress, which will cause you pain in the lower leg area. This may be caused by medial tibial stress syndrome (periostitis).
Your bone and tissue can cope with a certain amount of impact, strengthening themselves each time so they can recover. But if you keep putting too much stress on your bone, it may become inflamed.
There’s a number of reasons that you may get shin splints, these include:5
You may be able to prevent getting shin splints and stress fractures if you start your new exercise regime slowly.
Building up gradually and making sure you give yourself enough time to rest and recover between exercise is vital.
There are other methods you can try to prevent shin splints, they include:
Shins splints are usually treated at home with a good, recommended dose of rest. You can take painkillers to ease the pain, but usually you should see improvements within a few weeks.5
According to the NHS you can follow these six steps to try and heal your shin splints more quickly.
Taking ibuprofen or paracetamol will ease the pain while you allow yourself time to recover.
Apply an ice pack, or bag of frozen veg wrapped in a towel to your shin for 20 minutes every two to three hours.
Try not to do strenuous exercise. Instead try yoga or swimming while your body recovers.
When you begin to feel better, try exercising on soft ground to take the pressure off your legs.
You should add warming up properly ahead of exercise and cooling down as part of your routine.
Supporting your feet is important, so try to make sure you use footwear that will support your feet.
It’s important that you don’t continue doing the same exercise that caused your shin splints originally, allow yourself time to rest. Also, don’t rush yourself back and try and build your exercise back up slowly after recovery.
Shin splits occur in the bottom of the leg, in the bone known as the tibia and the tissues which surround it. Its not medically proven exactly how they come about, but it’s thought that intense pressure around that area can cause inflammation and, in some extreme circumstances, severe pain.
If you have shin splits it's important to allow yourself time to recover and only do light exercise. If the pain continues it is possible that it could be a stress fracture and you should contact your GP for a professional opinion.
Last updated: 03 May 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.