Shin splints are a common issue that occurs with runners, jumpers, and any athlete that is on their feet for a long period of time (basically everything except swimming). 

It is okay to run with shin splints as long as it’s not making symptoms worse. Shin splints, depending on where they are located, can be caused by anterior tibialis or posterior tibialis muscle tendinitis or tendinosis. 

It is possible that shin splints can also be related to a bone stress injury, namely a stress fracture. This is more common to occur with women who have a very low body fat percentage and who engage in high-volume endurance events like cross country where the training can often be 50+ miles/week of running. 

In this article, we’ll cover what you can do to keep yourself running and we will briefly cover some things you can do to reduce symptoms in the short term. In a separate article, I will write about a step-by-step rehabilitation program for shin splints. 

shin splints

Should you run with Shin Splints?

As I mentioned above, this depends. If symptoms are severe enough and every time you run, no matter how fast or slow you go, they get worse, I would recommend halting your running and working with a physical therapist, now. 

On the flip side, if you can run and it actually makes it feel better due to a warm-up effect, then continuing to run is okay. 

The caveat to this is that if you experience worsening symptoms 24 hours later after a training session you will also want to reduce the amount of running you are doing, decrease the intensity, or stop altogether. 

If I can’t run, how can I maintain my aerobic capacity and strength?

If you’re concerned about losing your fitness levels (as most high-level athletes are), my recommendation is to cross-train while you go through a rehab process for the shin. 

What this typically looks like is training time on the stationary bike and or assault bike (upper and lower body workout), and resistance training. 

If you maintain your aerobic conditioning with the bike and maintain your muscle mass and work on getting stronger with weights, you’ll likely come back without having lost much of your pace at all, assuming you are a cross-country runner, jumper, or other type of track and field athlete.

Will Swimming Help Maintain My Fitness?

swimming cross training

Swimming is a great low-impact way to maintain or improve your cardiovascular fitness levels if you need to take some time off from running. 

Additionally, if you have access to an underwater treadmill or an alter-G device, this can be a great way to maintain your running form but with a much lower impact. 

Running underwater on a treadmill is very difficult as there is added resistance, particularly when bringing the leg forward with each stride as we aren’t used to added hip flexion resistance. This can be great as a cross-training exercise even if you aren’t having any symptoms. 

What type of resistance training will help shin splints?

Calf raises, single-leg calf raises, toe walks, heel walks, lunges, and weighted single-leg calf raises are among a few exercises that can help with shin splints. 

The challenge with shin splints is that it can be related to several different factors. If it is related to the posterior tibial tendon then performing plantarflexion with inversion is one way to load the tissue in such a way that can help you improve symptoms. 

If it is a bone stress-related issue, the main thing to do for this will be rest and sometimes unweighting or the utilization of a boot. It’s important to receive a proper diagnosis that includes a physical exam and full medical history and mechanism of injury. 

In a future article, i’ll go into more depth of the step-by-step rehab process for shin splints. 

Key Takeaways

  • You can run with shin splints however you’ll want to make sure that you aren’t making symptoms worse
  • If symptoms are worsening even with reduced running you will want to remove all running and cross-train on the bike, swimming, and with lifting weights
  • Be aware that you could have a bone stress injury and that this will require more rest than just a regular tendon issue.