How to Prevent Shin Splints

Do your shins throb and ache after your daily run, walk or hike?  

If you have shin splints (technically called medial tibial stress syndrome), you might notice tenderness, soreness or pain along the inner side of your shinbone and mild swelling in your lower leg. At first, the pain might stop when you stop exercising. Eventually, however, the pain can be continuous and might progress to a stress reaction or stress fracture. This a result of stress on your shinbone and the connective tissues that attach muscles to your bones that causes them to get inflamed and painful.

Shin splints are often the result of

  • Overpronation — when the impact of a step makes your foot’s arch collapse
  • Shoes that don’t fit well or provide good support
  • Skipping the dynamic warmup exercise or cooldown stretches
  • Weak ankles, hips, or core muscles

These are all common problems and, fortunately, they are easily solvable.

However, the most common cause on shin splints is an abrupt change in intensity or sudden increase in the distance of a workout schedule. Muscles are forced to work harder, which can lead to inflammation of the lower leg muscles and even those that are used in lifting the foot. A change in terrain or surface can also influence whether or not you experience shin splints. Soft terrain such as dirt trails is always the easiest on shin splints while hard concrete is undeniably the worst. If you do plan to run or walk on concrete, make sure to adjust the distance and frequency of your runs and walks to ensure you are not over-doing it.  If you can choose a different terrain, even better!

The best remedy for shin splints is rest. While you are healing, feel free to take up a no-impact activity that won’t aggravate your shin splints while they heal, for example swimming or cycling.  However, if your shin splints don’t get better, or if they come back, your doctor may suggest you see a physical therapist. They can treat issues in your legs or the way you move that could be the cause of the problem. A therapist can also help ease the pain and guide your return to more activity. Your doctor can also check to make sure you don’t have tiny cracks in your tibia, commonly called a stress fracture.

But of course, the very best solution to shin splints is prevention!

Stretching and practicing correct biomechanics are two of the most basic ways to prevent the development of shin splints. Calf strengthening and calf stretches are especially important. Tight calves pull on the tibia, which then causes pain in the shin. Remember, if you want to prevent having tight calves – you need to stretch, stretch, stretch!

And don’t forget about your shoes! It’s a great idea to have several pairs of good athletic shoes, and regularly rotate the pair you use. Having at least two pairs of shoes “in rotation” and any given time help you avoid stress on your shins and joints. Remember that running and walking shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles. And the harder the surfaces you run and walk on (i.e. concrete) the more likely you will need new shoes at 300 miles versus 500.  

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