Should I Apply Ice or Heat for Shin Splints?

ice or heat for shin splints

Shin splints are more than just a dull ache that runners and athletes can experience. If left untreated, shin splints could lead to serious lower leg injuries.

If you notice shin pain that gets worse with exercise and hurts to the touch, this means that it is time to undertake a shin splint treatment. But should you apply ice or heat for shin splints? Read on to find out.

Ice or Heat for Shin Splints: What’s Best?

Before diving into the best at-home treatment to get rid of shin splints, let us take a step back to understand better what shin splints are and why they happen.

What are Shin Splints?

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrom, more commonly known as a “shin splint”, describes dull pain that you may feel along your shinbone and the front of your leg. It is a common overuse injury: it could occur from doing high-impact activities, such as running, without adequate stretching or for extended periods of time.

The condition is common in:

  • Runners
  • Dancers
  • Military recruits
  • Athletes who play sports like soccer or tennis

With rest and proper treatment, shin splints heal on their own. However, ignoring symptoms and continuing physical activity could lead to a more serious injury.

Shin Splint Treatment with RICE Method

If you can’t decide between ice or heat for shin splints, ice is the answer!

RICE, or Rest Ice Compression Elevation, is a common technique to treat injuries like shin splints at home. RICE stands for:

  • Rest. Take a break from all the activities that could be causing you swelling, pain, or discomfort. Active rest and low-impact activities like swimming are fine, but you should see a doctor immediately if you think you might have a more serious injury.
  • Ice. Wrap ice packs in a towel and place them on your shins for 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat the procedure 4-8 times a day for a few days, until the pain goes down.
  • Compression. You can reduce inflammation by wearing a calf compression sleeve.
  • Elevation. Try to elevate your legs on a chair or pillow whenever possible to further reduce inflammation.

If you are a runner, you may continue running, but it is important to decrease frequency and distance. Aim to decrease the running intensity by half and avoid uneven surfaces, hills, or hard surfaces like cement. If you can, running on a treadmill would be a safer option.

The Bottom Line

So what’s better – ice or heat for shin splints?

When dealing with this injury, ice and cold therapy is the only way to go! While heat can exacerbate inflammation, icing your shins several times a day can help to noticeably reduce pain and swelling.

If you are following the RICE method and stretching regularly, shin splint pain may go away on its own. To prevent shin splints and re-injuring yourself, remember to stretch before and after the workout.

If you suspect a more serious injury or shin splint pain doesn’t subside, contact your doctor immediately to determine the appropriate treatment options.

Diego Alcubierre, a passionate runner and coach, started his journey at 26 with a 10k time of 1:06:23 and has since slashed 30 minutes off his personal record. With five running and coaching certifications, Diego is committed to sharing his expertise and proven strategies to help runners of all levels enhance their performance, stay motivated, and enjoy the journey of running. At Bannister, he simplifies complex training concepts, empowering you to achieve your running goals.