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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Lim Sock Ling and Dr Eki Wari on January 10, 2023

Natural Therapies For Shin Splints That Work

It takes about three weeks for shin splints to heal completely. These tips can help you manage the pain and swelling so you can get back to doing what you love sooner.

Shin splints min scaled

Shin splints refer to the pain located just behind the big bone in the front of your lower leg. They are commonly due to overuse or an exercise injury.

Most of the time, shin splints will go away on their own with rest. However, it can really put a damper on your exercise endeavors. It also causes you to live in constant leg pain.

Along with resting, there are many things you can do naturally to reduce the pain and speed up the healing process in your legs. Learn the causes and treatment options for shin splints below.

What Are Shin Splints?

A man running on a hard surface
Running on hard surfaces can increase the risk of developing shin splints.

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are due to an overuse injury. It occurs when there is pain located behind the tibia in the lower leg.

The types of activities that can trigger shin splints are either high-impact or involve repeated use of the lower legs. Examples of these include: 

  • Hill running 
  • Distance running  
  • Sports or exercise routines that have frequent stop-starts, such as football, basketball, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) 

Increasing the intensity of training or the number of days you train may also make you vulnerable to shin splints.

In addition, your risk of injury can be higher if you: 

  • Have flat feet 
  • Wear worn-out shoes 
  • Wear the wrong type of shoes 
  • Play sports on hard surfaces

How To Prevent Shin Splints

Stay injury-free by wearing proper-fitting shoes. A “wet test” is one of the most reliable methods for identifying your foot pattern.

Wet your feet and place them on a material or surface that shows your footprint. If a whole impression is visible, you have flat feet. If only the ball and heel are visible, you have high-arched feet.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Lim Sock Ling recommends the following tips to prevent shin splints:

  • Use arch supports, which can help prevent the pain of shin splints, especially if you’re flat-footed
  • Shock-absorbing insoles might reduce shin splint symptoms and prevent its recurrence
  • Monitor and analyze your movement. Video analysis of your running technique can help to identify movement patterns that can contribute to shin splints. In many cases, a slight change in your running can help decrease the risk 
  • Avoid overdoing physical activities. Too much running or other high-impact sports performed for too long at too high an intensity can overload the shins
  • Choose the right shoes. If you’re a runner, replace your shoes about every 350 to 500 miles
  • Reduce the impact. Cross-train with a sport that places less impact on your shins, such as swimming, walking, or biking. Remember to start new activities slowly and increase time and intensity gradually. 
  • Add strength training to your workout. Exercises to strengthen and stabilize your legs, ankles, hips, and core can help prepare your legs for high-impact sports

How Are Shin Splints Diagnosed?

The first thing a healthcare provider will do during a consultation session is look at your symptoms and medical history. A physical examination of your lower leg will then be performed.

Imaging tests may also be required to rule out other shin-related injuries. An x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can show stress fractures in the tibia. An MRI may also be used to diagnose tendonitis.

To diagnose a chronic exertional compartment syndrome, a healthcare provider will measure the amount of pressure within the leg compartments before and after exercise. The syndrome will provoke an elevation of the pressure in the muscles and lead to shin splints.

Shin Splint Treatment Options

A man giving a deep tissue massage to a woman's shin
A deep tissue massage can help reduce shin splint pain.

Rest is the best way to heal your shin splints. Taking a two-week to a month-long break from working out or playing a sport is advisable. Only resume physical activity when the pain subsides but go easy.

Substitute your usual, high-intensity sport or routine for low-impact exercises. Swimming or using a stationary bike or elliptical trainer are a few of the options you can consider. Ice your shins after exercise to minimize swelling. 

It takes shin splints approximately three to six months to heal completely. Thus, it’s best that you increase the intensity of activities progressively.

Be mindful that an untreated shin splint can also develop into a tibial stress fracture, which requires surgery. 

Treatment for pain and swelling

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin may be recommended by a healthcare provider for pain and swelling.

The focus of TCM in treating shin splints is to relax the muscles, remove Stasis, nourish the Liver and promote qi (vital life force) circulation. 

Tao Hong Si Wu soup and Zheng Gu Zi Jin Dan are commonly used in the treatment of shin splints by removing Blood Stasis, promoting pain relief and healing. You may also consume natural ingredients like ginger (Sheng Jiang), turmeric (Jiang Huang), valerian root (Xie Cao), and coconut oil.”

Physician Lim Sock Ling.

Each of these has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. Collectively, they have the ability to alleviate pain and act as a muscle relaxant. Similarly, American Wild Ginseng and Tian Qi capsules can help promote the flow of blood and qi to reduce pain and swelling.

You can also apply an herbal plaster to the affected area to reduce pain and inflammation. Soaking ginger slices in warm water, wrapping them in a towel, and applying them directly to the shins has the same effect.

Consider physical therapy

Working with a physical therapist is a viable option for addressing pain caused by shin splints. You’ll also learn exercises that strengthen the leg muscles.

Do speak to them about the use of arch supports, orthotics, or customized shock-absorbing shoes in fending off a recurrence of the injury.

Try tuina and acupuncture

Research also shows that the combination of tuina and acupuncture helped ease pain due to shin splints, as well as a dependency on NSAIDs.

During treatment, an acupuncturist may work on pain points along the affected shin, as well as acupuncture points like: 

  • Yang Ling Quan (GB34)  
  • Tai Xi (KI3) 
  • Tai Chong (LI3) 
  • Qu Quan (LI8)  
  • Di Ji (SP8) 
  • Yin Ling Quan (SP9) 
  • Zu San Li (ST36) 

The combination of clinical and traditional therapy can help you achieve total recovery from shin splints. Speak to a licensed practitioner before using the latter system of medicine.

Physician Lim cautions, “Acupuncture treatment is generally safe if performed by a qualified physician. However, a cautionary approach will be taken if you’re pregnant, have diabetes, or are on blood-thinning medications. Likewise, a TCM practitioner will suggest other herbal alternatives to avoid contraindications.“ 

References

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