If you have ever been a runner or serious athlete of any kind, you have likely dealt with the dreaded shin splints. Maybe you didn’t even realize what they were – you just knew your legs hurt and it felt like death to go for one more run.
The good news is that shin splints are treatable. The better news is that you can avoid them in the first place. Let’s review what shin splints actually are before we discuss how to keep them far, far away from you.
Shin splints is the common term for what doctors call medial tibial stress syndrome, which generally refers to pain that runs down your shinbone, or tibia – the larger bone between your knee and ankle. Shin splints result from inflammation and fatigue in the muscles, tendons and bone tissue in the front of your leg.
In layman’s terms, you get shin splints when you overwork your legs. You may notice them especially if you have changed your training routine or began exercising with more intensity. Shin splints are very common – more than three million cases a year occur in the United States.
Here are three strategies that will help you avoid shin splints:
1. Perform Strengthening Exercises
Shin splints sometimes occur because your lower legs are trying to compensate for other body parts that may not be as strong as they need to be. If you strengthen your hips, calves, ankles and feet, you’ll develop more support that will keep shin splints at bay.
Toe raises (stand on the floor, then rise up on your toes) strengthen your calf muscles, while leg presses can be helpful as well. Heel drops (stand on the edge of the stairs and drop one heel at a time, then come back up), calf stretches and toe curls also work to strengthen your legs.
2. Obtain Adequate Support
Preventing shin splints can also be a simple matter of support. One of the most common causes of shin splints is running in worn-out shoes that no longer give you any cushion. You should replace your running shoes every 350 to 500 miles (or every year). In addition to good shock absorption, look for shoes that provide good stability – overpronation can cause injury as well.
You should also consider adding arch supports or custom orthotics to your shoes, especially if you have flat feet with no natural arch support (take a look at our best running shoes for shin splints guide to see the best shoes for shin splint sufferers). Using insoles to lift your arches will help reduce stress on your lower legs. You can buy over-the-counter orthotics that may work just fine, or you can spring for custom orthotics developed especially for your feet. These will be pricey, but they are worth it for serious runners.
3. Modify Your Training
If you know you are prone to shin splints, consider changing your training routine the next time you begin a new round of training. Try cross-training with another sport that does not put as much impact on your shins. Instead of running every day, for example, try swimming or biking a couple of days a week. Another option is to cover the same distance, but walk as much as or more than you run. Whenever you start a new activity, begin slowly and build your time and intensity over a gradual period of time – don’t just jump into high intensity training right away.
Another training modification is to use a shorter stride than normal. This reduces your likelihood of shin splints and can increase your efficiency. At the end of your stride, try to land flat on the middle of your foot rather than striking the ground heel-first. If your heel hits first, your shin muscles will stretch out and will have to work harder to slow down.
Try these methods to avoid shin splints, and you’ll stay on your feet all year long!