Whether you’re a runner who has been consistently taking the road for years or just off the couch on your journey to a life of jogging, racing and trails, you’re probably aware that you might get hurt for your hobby. Although running is not typically considered a high-risk activity, there is a chance of injury, especially if you do not take the right precautions to keep yourself healthy. Yes, there are risks of slipping and falling when you are on the road – especially in winter weather when there may be icy conditions or on the uneven terrain of a trail when you go off-road – but runners are even more concerned about injuries not caused by one catastrophic event is not caused. So-called “overuse injuries” occur when you push your body past its breaking point. One of the most common of these for runners is shin splints, a familiar term to just about anyone who has ever fastened a pair of sneakers.
But as recognizable as the term itself is in the running community, not everyone understands exactly what shin splints are other than just pain in the lower leg – or how one can prevent the condition from happening to them during their own training. We talked to several experts about shin splints to help explain exactly what you need to know.
Shin splints affect your lower legs, specifically your shins. The painful condition is caused by microcracks that form along the border of the tibia and the lower leg muscles, where it attaches to the bone.
“Shin splints (also known as medial tibial stress syndrome) are a painful syndrome that is often the result of an ‘too much too soon’ approach to training (in other words, overload),” says Dr. Rachel Tavel, PT, DPT, CSCS, Physiotherapist at Shift Wellness in NYC.
“It can feel like a dull ache in the lower leg, along the lower third of the leg, or like a hammer hitting the leg when you walk or run,” Tavel continues. “There is usually also a degree of tension / stiffness around the area.”
But do not worry if you feel the pain – the condition is also very common and normal.
How to prevent shin splints
If you get shin splints regularly, it could be an indication of muscle weakness in other parts of your body.
“While shin splints are a common lower leg injury, it is essential that runners improve hip and core strength at the same time,” says Dr. Mr. Bui, PT, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist at EXOS in Larkspur, California. “The glutes, in particular, are the largest, most powerful muscle in the human body and affect control of the knee and ankle joints, which can reduce tension on smaller muscles in the lower leg.”
And while stretching and strengthening are crucial, improving running mechanics is just as important.
“Overtraining is the number one risk factor while running associated with shin splints.” says Dr. Bui. “If you land with your foot far in front of your body, increase the impact forces that go directly to the tibia (shin bone) instead of being absorbed by larger joints such as the hip. Runners with shin splints should look at their cadence (walking pace per minute)) and increase by 5 to 10 percent if cadence is less than 180. ”
However, the key to preventing shin splints is to address the problem as soon as you start feeling it.
“Once pain begins, a patient should rest the area, apply ice and then massage,” says Dr. Mikhail. “Consider changing your sport as running or jumping tends to cause shin splinter pain.”
You should also reconsider your shoe choice.
“Proper shoe wear is also important as a loss of arch support is sometimes the cause of shin splints,” adds dr. Mikhail by.
If your shin splints do not go away, you may need to see a doctor.
“You should be referred to an MD to ensure the cause of pain is in fact shin splints and not something more serious, such as anterior compartment syndrome,” notes Dr. Mikhail.
If it is too late and you are unable to prevent the condition, you do have options. One of the best ways to get rid of shin splints is to stretch.
Shin Splint Strek
We asked physical therapists for their favorite stretches to help you relieve shin splints.
Stretch 1: Kneel Plantar Flexion Stretch
Start in a long kneeling position with the tops of your feet on the floor. Sit back on your legs until you feel a stretch in your feet, and hold this position for 30 seconds.
“Make sure you keep your back straight during the exercise,” says Dr. Mikhail. “Stretch three times daily, seven days a week until pain subsides. After pain subsides, stretch three times daily, three days a week.”
Stretch 2: Standing stomach Stretch one step down
“Stand with both feet on a step or curb. Lower one heel off the curb until you feel a light intensity stretch. Hold for 2 minutes. Low load, long lasting stretches produce the most transmission,” says Dr. Bui. “Spend 2 to 5 minutes total. Make sure you are on muscle, not leg!”
Stretch 3: Soleus Stretch on wall
Start in a standing upright position in front of a wall. Place your hands on the wall and stretch one leg backwards with your front knee bent. Lean forward into the wall until you feel a stretch in your lower calf and hold for 30 seconds. After you finish one leg, change sides and repeat.
“Make sure you keep your heels on the ground and back knee bent during the stretch,” says Dr. Mikhail. “Stretch three times daily, seven days a week until pain subsides. After pain subsides, stretch three times daily, three days a week.”
Stretch 4: Knee Drive for Single Dorsiflexion Mobilization
“In a semi-kneeling position with both knees on the floor, the front knee floats forward and aims at your pink toe while keeping the heel on the ground. “Press the knee with your hand as far as it can go without lifting the heel off the ground, hold for 2 seconds, and repeat 20 times a day for about 2 minutes in total,” says Dr. Bui.
Stretch 5: Long-sleeved calfskin with strap
Start sitting on the floor with one foot stretched out in front of you, bending your other knee and tying a band around your foot. Slowly pull your foot toward you with the strap until you feel a stretch in your calf and hold for 30 seconds. After you finish one leg, change sides and repeat.
“Make sure you keep your knee straight during the stretch,” says Dr. Mikhail. “Stretch three times daily, seven days a week until pain subsides. After pain subsides, stretch three times daily, three days a week.”
Alternative stretching: Self-massage
You can also do self-massage on your shin splints.
“If you want to massage both the tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior at the same time, I recommend the Rolherwinning R8 tool, “says Dr. Bui.
Anterior shin splints: For anterior shin splints, you want to massage painful trigger points into the tibialis anterior muscle (front of the leg) yourself.
“Start on your hands and knees. Place the front / outside of the painful leg against a foam roller or lacrosse ball. Cross one leg on top of the other so that all your body weight is in front of one leg. Roll up and down “Until you find painful trigger points, then keep pressing on the painful spots as you move the ankle up and down. When you feel the painful spot release, go ahead and find the next one,” says Dr. Bui.
Posterior shin splints: For posterior shin splints, massage the tibialis posterior and calf muscles yourself by first sitting on the floor with both legs straight.
“Place a foam roller or lacrosse ball under the back of your leg. Cross one leg over the other. Roll up and down to find the painful spot, then hold the pressure and move your ankle up and down,” says dr. Bui.
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