What’s the Best Way to Reduce the Risk of Shin Splints in Military Endurance Runners?

April 8, 2024

If you’ve ever felt a throbbing, aching pain on the inner side of your shin after a long run, you’ve likely experienced shin splints. This common complaint among runners, especially military endurance runners, can be excruciating and hinder performance. First, let’s identify what shin splints are, the causes, and then delve into the primary ways to prevent and manage them.

Understanding Shin Splints

Shin splints are a result of stress on your shinbone and the connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bones. This stress causes inflammation, leading to pain and discomfort. They frequently affect those who engage in moderate to high-intensity exercise such as military training.

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This condition often occurs when you’ve made a sudden change in your physical activity regimen. This could be an increase in the frequency of exercise, an increase in the intensity of your workouts, or a change in the type of exercises you’re performing.

The Role of Proper Footwear in Preventing Shin Splints

The importance of wearing the right shoes while running cannot be overstated. Ill-fitting or worn-out shoes can increase the risk of developing shin splints. Shoes that don’t offer adequate support can cause your foot to over-pronate, i.e., roll inward more than normal when you walk or run. This over-pronation can put more tension on your lower leg muscles, making them prone to injury.

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Take the time to find the right running shoes that offer adequate support and cushioning. It might help to speak with a professional who understands gait analysis and can recommend suitable shoes. Changing your shoes every 350-500 miles of running is also advisable, as worn-out shoes lose their ability to absorb shock effectively.

Adequate Warm-up and Cool-down Exercises

Warming up before starting any strenuous physical activity, including running, is crucial. A good warm-up increases your heart rate, improves circulation, and prepares your muscles for the upcoming exercise.

Without a proper warm-up, you risk shocking your muscles into sudden, intense activity, which could lead to injuries like shin splints. A typical warm-up could involve a slow jog, followed by dynamic stretches that mimic the upcoming exercise.

Similarly, cooling down after an intense workout helps the body wind down and start the recovery process. It could involve gradually reducing your running pace and performing static stretches.

Training and Exercise Modifications

Overdoing it is often tempting, especially for military endurance runners. However, increasing your training volume or intensity too quickly can lead to shin splints. A rule of thumb is to increase your running mileage by no more than 10% per week. This gradual increase helps your muscles adapt to the added stress.

Furthermore, cross-training can be another effective way to prevent shin splints. By incorporating low-impact activities like swimming or cycling, you can improve your cardiovascular fitness and give your shins a break from the continuous pounding during running.

Importance of Strength and Flexibility

Strength training, particularly targeting the lower leg muscles, can help prevent shin splints. Exercises like heel drops, toe raises, and ankle dorsiflexion can strengthen the muscles involved in running, thereby reducing the risk of injury.

In conjunction with strength training, maintaining flexibility is also crucial. Tight calf muscles have been identified as a potential risk factor for shin splints. Regular stretching can help alleviate tightness and improve overall muscle function.

In conclusion, while shin splints are a common issue among military endurance runners, they can be managed and prevented by making some strategic changes to your training program. Always remember to listen to your body, and don’t push through pain. Rest, recovery, and prevention techniques are all integral parts of successful, pain-free running.

The Role of Physical Therapy in Treating Shin Splints

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing and preventing shin splints. A physical therapist can work with you to design an exercise program tailored to your specific needs. This program can help strengthen the muscles in your lower legs, improve your flexibility, and correct any biomechanical issues that may be contributing to your shin splint pain.

Your physical therapist may use various techniques to help manage your pain and facilitate recovery. For example, they may use tibial stress management techniques, such as ice massage or compression wraps, to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. They may also use manual therapy techniques to improve joint mobility and relax tense muscles.

Muscle imbalances are often a contributing factor to shin splints. If your calf muscles are stronger than your shin muscles, you’re more likely to suffer from shin splints. Your physical therapist can teach you exercises to correct these imbalances and reduce the risk of future injuries. You may also learn exercises to help manage flat feet, another common risk factor for shin splints.

In addition to helping you recover from shin splints, your physical therapist can provide advice on how to prevent future injuries. This could involve a review of your running technique, training load, footwear, and other risk factors. They can also help you understand when it’s safe to return to running and how to do so gradually to avoid re-injury.

The Place of Sports Medicine in Preventing Shin Splints

Sports medicine professionals, such as orthopedic surgeons, sports physicians, and athletic trainers, play a vital role in preventing and treating shin splints. If you’re prone to shin splints, consider seeing a sports medicine professional.

They can assess your lower leg mechanics, identify risk factors, and provide personalized advice to prevent shin splints. A sports medicine professional can also diagnose other conditions that may mimic shin splints, like stress fractures or medial tibial stress syndrome, using imaging techniques.

If you’re dealing with persistent shin splints, a sports medicine professional can offer treatment options that may include physical therapy, orthotic devices, or even surgery in rare cases. They may also refer you to a nutritionist to ensure you are consuming a diet that supports bone health and muscle recovery.

Furthermore, they can guide you through a safe return-to-play protocol, ensuring you don’t rush back into high-impact activities too soon. This gradual approach will help your body adjust and decrease the likelihood of re-injury.


In short, preventing shin splints requires a multi-faceted approach, which includes proper footwear, adequate warm-up and cool-down exercises, strength training, flexibility exercises, and a careful increase in training intensity. Incorporating low-impact activities into your training regimen can also help protect your shins. If you’re experiencing shin splints, don’t ignore the pain. Seek advice from a physical therapist or a sports medicine professional. They can provide targeted exercises, recommend appropriate footwear, and offer guidance on modifying your training program to reduce the risk of shin splints. Remember, it’s not just about pushing through the pain. Effective prevention and timely recovery from shin splints will ensure your long-term success as a military endurance runner.