Cause and Treatment of Treadmill Shin Splits

Treadmill shin splits

Jasminko Ibrakovic/Shutterstock.com

By Simon Gould

Treadmills are known to be easier on the joints due to that nice and spongy belt that you have to run on. Compared to concrete a treadmill is like running on a set of springs. So can a treadmill cause shin problems like running outside? Here we look at why your shins might be hurting, what may be causing it and 6 ways to treat them.

What causes your shins to hurt

Outside running on a hard surface repeatedly and over doing the frequency of the exercise is a contributing factor. On a treadmill the problem is exactly the same and has the same name. When your shins hurt it’s because of the running that you’re doing not the surface you’re doing it on. This is the case even when the surface is the running belt of a treadmill.

You may not expect shin splints on a treadmill and it’s not reported so often. But that’s because when people have experience in running they move from the treadmill onto outside. The treadmill is only used in special circumstances like speed training or when outside conditions like the weather doesn’t favor it. Shin aplints are an overuse injury and you can still over train on a treadmill.

There is a further reason that it can happen on treadmills too and that is because the terrain you’re running on never changes. Outside your legs have to make adjustments for the terrain you’re running on, even when this is hard concrete. But on a treadmill the running action is the same every time. You’re repeating the same steps over and over which can exacerbate running injuries like shin splints.

What shin splints are

Shin splints is a collective term for any injury occurring to the lower leg caused by running. It’s normally on the front of the tibia which is the bone we feel the pain and tenderness on. But it can occur on other parts of the lower leg including the back where the fibula is. We all know the feel and pain of shin splints on the front of the lower leg.

They occur because the impact of the running surface is no longer being absorbed properly by the legs and feet. This is typical in training that’s become more intensive or if the footwear needs replacing. Your running shoes may have lost their impact absorption or you may need to have a week of less intensive running or alternative exercising like an elliptical.

6 Ways to treat shin splints

1. Get proper running shoes

As mentioned before your running shoes may need replacing and if they do, get them fitted using a speciality running store. This way you get the shoes that are right for you and will make your gait more efficient and less likely to stress your lower leg. Replace them after 300 miles or 6 months, whichever is sooner. Old or worn out shoes lose their cushioning.

2. Stretch

Remember to warm up and cool down before and after exercising. Stretching is a good way of treating shin splints and to help prevent them coming back again. There are shin stretches you can do where you sit on your feet with your legs bent in front of you and put pressure on your heels by leaning back. An advanced version is where you are in the same starting position you lift your knees.

3. Reduce your intensity

If you’re running long distances, you may need to cut back if you’re always getting shin splints. Save your long run for one day per week and reduce the mileage on the other days. Don’t run on an incline of more than 1% for long periods. Running uphill can put stress on your joints. Also don’t use a decline if there’s one on your treadmill as the impact is harder when you land.

4. Strengthen supporting muscles

This is not always convenient but will help the injury and reduce the pain and swelling. Try some strength exercises on the lower leg to help strengthen the muscles that support the area. Finally it’s tempting to run through it and we’ve all done it but to prevent it getting worse and developing into stress fractures some treatment is needed.

5. Rest and ice

You may not want to, but the ultimate treatment is rest. This is the only way they can heal. Medline Plus said you should rest for 2 to 4 weeks and that they can take 3 to 6 months to fully heal. This seems extreme but that’s the advice out there by the medical community. While you’re resting you should place ice packs on your shins several times a day for 3 days, or until the pain is gone.

6. Cross train

What you could do on days of rest if you experience problems with your shins and you still wanted to exercise, you could cross train. There are workouts you can do which have very little impact and so won’t stress the shins and allow them to recover. An elliptical, rowing or swimming are all activities you can do with shin splints. This is if you have no pain.

Summary

I do my running exclusively on a treadmill and I have experienced shin splints. They’ve occurred when I’ve completed a long run. It doesn’t happen often but I know when I’ve over done it. Your weight is a factor as your knees and shins have to take every pounding you give them. Fortunately you can just take a day off or have an easy run and you should recover.

Shin splints are far more common from running outside and can get worse if you don’t do something about them. As long as you wear good running shoes, stretch before and after you workout and do strength exercises on the lower leg, shin splints doesn’t have to be something that defines your routines. You can easily continue your running with some thought and care.

Essential reading

Thinking of buying a treadmill? Here’s my favorite, I always recommend it when asked*

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