Shin Splints : Rucking Causes and Fixes

Shin Splints - the bane of every new rucker. But it doesn't have to be that way. Shin splints are a common overuse injury, and something you want to take care of quickly for comforts sake as well as to prevent further injury.

First: What are shin splints?

Shin splints feels like burning or tender, throbbing soreness running along the shin area.

Shin splints often occur with new movement patterns -- typically if you're moving faster or further than you're used to. They most often occur with people new to rucking, but can happen to regular ruckers too, especially if they're training on new shoes that they weren't fitted for.

The pain is generally along the inside edge of the shin bone, from the middle to lower leg, just above the ankle. The pain can often radiate outward and can be either dull or sharp. The pain generally increases during exercise and swelling may occur. Shin splints can turn into a stress fracture, so this is something you want to take care of and not ignore.

Why do shin splints happen?

When your muscle and bone pull and tug at the insertion point of your tibia, the area can become irritated, swollen and painful. While the exact reason for this occurrence is unknown, it's generally accepted that when additional weight or load is applied to the leg, shin splints occur. Your tibia takes most of the impact of your increased stride, speed or load and when paired with fatigued muscles, it creates the perfect conditions for pain.

It's also common when you're new to exercise and you're still working on your core stability. Having a stable core creates the right physical scaffolding to maintain good rucking posture, a solid walking stride and more muscle to stabilize the impact of additional weight (your ruck) while moving.

Tight leg muscles (and feet that tend to rotate outwards while standing or walking - also called excessive pronation) are also susceptible to shin splints. Rolling out your calves both before and after rucking, as well as working on improving leg muscle stability, can positively impact how your legs respond to impact stress.

Other risk factors for shin splints include:

  • Flat feet, or low or rigid arches
  • Being overweight
  • Participating in high-impact movement on concrete or asphalt
  • If you've had shin splints prior
  • You're a member of the military and anyone who marches or walks a lot
  • Walking extreme distances
  • and...your shoes

Your Shoes

Your shoes tend to be one of the biggest issues for new (and regular) ruckers. Especially if you bought shoes without being fitted for them, or you're rucking in old or worn-down shoes.

It seems like a hassle to go to a run store ("I don't run!") and have someone choose shoes for you. If everyone is wearing a certain shoe or recommending one this month, isn't that good enough? Nope. Buying shoes without trying them on, or buying them without being properly fitted, is the number one reason for shin splints. Rucking without support, or without proper cushioning, can lead to foot, ankle and shin problems without much provocation -- it's not going to take many miles or weight additions to feel the pain.

When you get fitted, the shoe salesperson is going to be looking at your feet, how you walk, ask if you're experiencing any pain and what you're training for. Sometimes, they'll have a treadmill they'll ask you to walk on. From there, they'll make their recommendations. Your gait mechanics are different than other people's on the Internet. Asking for shoe recommendations from random strangers may end in more pain. Get fitted by a professional and save yourself some pain!

Shoes need to be replaced (at least) every 300 miles.

I'm already dealing with shin splints. Now what?

Rest and stretching Taking a break is the best way to give your bones and muscles a break, even though it might be the last thing you want to do when you've just started a new routine. Depending on the severity of your shin splints, rest can take from a few days to a few weeks. Don't stop working out though - just do it in a different way. Swimming, cycling, rowing, and yoga are all great alternatives to rucking while you're rehabbing and keep you moving forward. When you get back to rucking, roll your calves both before and after a ruck to keep your muscles loose.

Ice Icing your shins for 10 - 20 minutes up to four times a day for a few days feels great and reduces pain and swelling. 

Pain relievers Over-the-counter pain relivers, or NSAIDS, can relieve your pain and swelling. 

Shoe inserts / new shoes We've already discussed new shoes above, but you can also get shoe inserts which add additional cushioning and stability. This is especially beneficial if you have flat feet or need additional arch support.

Slowly increase activity Once your shins are feeling better, slowly start increasing your activity level again. You may want to decrease your ruck weight as you start and use a slower pace and shorter distance. Increase by 10% each week (both weight and distance) for the best result.

Ruck on different surfaces Training on trails, in the grass and avoiding uphills until you've healed are going to be more comfortable than training on concrete and asphalt.

Is this permanent?

Shin splints will heal over time and with the right treatment. 

If you follow the above tips for shin splints, they'll often heal up anywhere from a few days to a month. Most ruckers go on to train for many miles, and with heavier and heavier weights without reoccurrence as their muscles strengthen and their recovery techniques become a regular part of their fitness routine.

If you've had them for a long time, they don't seem to be healing, or your shins hurt without exercise, though, it might be time to see your doctor. 

Take good care of yourself!