6 Ways to Help Prevent Shin Splints Without Stopping Your Training Schedule!
And later see my Bonus Section: Week-by-week tips on how to get back to your sport if you are already injured.
What are Shin Splints?
The term “Shin Splint” is a generic or layman’s term for pain felt to either side or both sides of the shin bone. Your shin bone, the tibia, is flanked by important soft tissue and muscles that control the strength and rate of the pointing up and down of your foot. With greater activity, such as running and jumping, those muscles can become strained, creating loss of flexibility and pain in those muscle groups. The condition can become so severe that activity/sports are unbearable. In even more advanced cases, some people can develop a stress fracture or compartment syndrome.
Signs and symptoms:
Pain on the inside or outside of the shin bone - usually appears gradually and gets worse with running on hard surfaces or jumping activities.
Here are 6 easy tips to help prevent shin splints:
Proper warm up and stretching routine:
When your foot hits the ground, your body takes on that force all the way up to your back. Creating the most elasticity in your muscles is one of the best ways to avoid muscle strain in any of your lower extremity muscles. Take time out to properly warm up with dynamic stretches, a light walk, or slow jog. Then, if an isolated area of your legs tends to be a bigger problem, spend 5-10 minutes doing stretches directed at the area of the shin and calf before you head out for training or a run.
Expect that with harder surfaces, such as asphalt or cement, your muscles will be worked much harder. The pounding of your feet creates vibrations and reaction stress in all of your leg muscles. Also consider that uneven surfaces such as running on the sides of the road that naturally have a slant, will affect the angle of your feet, causing an imbalance in the work load forced upon your lower leg muscles. And when you are dodging or running around pot-holes, then navigating the rocks and dips expected with trail running, you will unfortunately be over working your leg muscles. Or are you finding an unusual amount of post-run soreness after running hills? Try to limit the number of hills and/or limit the hillier runs to 1x/wk increasing to 2x/wk as your legs recover faster and with less pain. If an area of your legs tends to hurt or fatigue more with uneven surface running or too many hills, consider altering your route completely until your stretching and conditioning can catch up with the increased work load of these surfaces.
How old are your shoes? Our feet can manage subtle adjustments in surface variations but their tolerance improves when we have good sneakers or shoes on. Just like the tires on our car, our shoes wear out and can no longer offer the support our feet need to get the job done. Shoes can wear unevenly forcing our feet at angles unhealthy for our shins, calves, knees and/or hips, and even all the way up to our back. A general rule is that sneakers need to be replaced every 300-500 miles. But don’t let a number completely guide you. Take a look at those sneakers—if you see uneven wear at the heel or forefoot and the treads are completely worn down, it is time for new sneakers. You will be surprised how much better you will feel when you replace your shoes. Another trick---if you have purchased a pair of sneakers you love and they feel great---buy a second pair! Alternate the pairs out every few weeks so you always have a fresh pair to relay on for a greater period of time. This will also extend your ability to stay in the same sneakers right up to race time.
So you’ve decided to train for that big race or a friend of yours convinced you to run that 5k hosted in town next month! Great! But consider the training needed leading up to a race, how much time do you have, and evaluate your prior level of conditioning. Your leg muscles can learn to be strained, recover/repair, and ultimately get stronger for that next jump in mileage, routine or speed, but only if you give them a chance. For runners, train gradually, never adding more than a 10% jump in distance per week. For dancers, don’t take on too many classes in a week by phasing in those extra routines slowly or gradually increase the time in a class, building up to a full class. And for youth soccer players…if you haven’t run all summer and then start practices 3-5x/wk, expect your muscles will essentially go into shock from the sudden increase in use! Begin running or training for increases in activity. This will allow ample time for the process of strain/recovery to occur and avoid over-strain that leads to injury.
Post Exercise Treatment:
Self myofascial/massage techniques and icing: Pamper your muscles after a workout. Perform a cool down run or walk followed by complete lower extremity stretching. That mean’s ALL the muscles of your legs then with greater focus spent to the areas of the shins, feet, and calves. Don’t skip this! Your body is already nice and warm, allowing the best stretch to those muscles. And a bonus treatment is self massage or myofascial techniques—foam rolling can reduce some of the post-workout tightness felt in all LE muscles. Get a less dense foam roll to start or you could try a massage stick to work out those tight spots. Follow your stretches with an ice pack, ice massage, or if you are really gung-ho…an ice bath! Reducing post-workout inflammation can assist your body in getting to those muscles without disruption to start the healing/re-building process.
Don’t throw on those flip flops, slippers or go barefoot after a workout. If you find your feet hurt more once you go barefoot after a workout or squeezing in to those high heels or tight leather shoes for work, then don’t wear them if you can help it. Use those back up pair of sneakers when you are home right up to when you go to bed. Your legs and feet may thank you by not hurting as much post-workout!
If all of this fails and you find progress slow and you are starting to feel that you just can’t complete your workout:
- Up your stretching game---stretch your calves and Achilles regularly, a few times a day.
- Consider cross-training for a while to let your shin heal. Swim, run in the pool or ride a bike.
- Sneakers are designed with only a few basic designs to suit most people’s feet---cushioning, stability and motion control shoes are shoe designs frequently marketed. If you have severe flat feet or have been considered an “over-pronator” then a basic shoe design may not work for you…you may need inserts or orthotics.
- Strengthening exercises for ankles and calf muscles may be necessary to build greater tolerance to pre-training.
Bonus Tips and Therapy Options if you are an injured ATHLETE and pain is now unbearable:
* Week 1
Complete rest is advised for the athlete.
Speak to your GP about anti-inflammatories and apply ice regularly to the damaged shinbone.
In this phase it’s important to check sneakers for “wear” and loss of support. Also, consider custom orthotics that are proven to reduce the effects of shin splints and limit pain during exercise.
Athlete can cycle, swim, cross trainer and rowing machine to maintain CV fitness. Running or jumping is to be avoided at all costs.
From a therapist point of view --deep massage of the front muscles of your lower leg that flank the tibia and calf muscle are urgent as is stretching of both.
* Week 2
Rest from running continues.
Ice continues to be applied, little and yet very often.
Maintain/increase fitness with Gym work and immediately begin Pilates and core control style exercises. Add in gluteal, quad and hamstring strengthening exercises too. All of which are vital.
From a therapist point of view -- continue with deep massage of the front muscles of your lower leg that flank the tibia and calf and muscles are urgent, as is stretching of both.
Begin deep tissue massage of IT Band, quads and hamstrings and stretching of the Athlete’s lower back.
* Week 3
Consider gradual return to running. Note: Treadmill running is advised first due to less impact. If fine, progress to grass and or sand.
All other fitness options are continued and core/Pilates is increased.
From a therapist point of view -- athlete continues to receive deep tissue massage, PNF stretching and hands on work to the lower back region.
* Week 4
Continue with ice.
Insert custom orthotics and begin gradual return to pre-injury activity.
Athlete will continue to apply ice immediately after any running for at least 6 weeks.
Core and Pilates exercises maintained, as is all strength and flexibility work to the surrounding muscle groups.
From a therapist point of view -- deep therapeutic massage of the anterior leg, calf muscle and surrounding muscles continues for approx. 2-3 weeks.
Review of Recovery:
Complete rest from running needed early on.
Stretch and massaging of the front muscles of your lower leg that flank the tibia and calf muscles are urgent as is stretching of both---this is pivotal to a successful recovery. As is doing the right core, Pilates and gluteal strength and control exercises.
Additional Secret Tip(s):
Check your sneakers and change them every 3 months, consider custom foot orthotics and ice packs is the best thing that you can be doing to help yourself with shin splints.
You must also be doing regular core control and back strength exercises, too.
Let your therapist do everything else.
Do not be fooled by the absence of pain when you rest. Shin Splints are likely to only be painful in a weight-bearing situation (such as running).
Note: Return to running progressively and start with treadmill --> grass --> sand --> road.
Get Physical With Physical Therapy:
There isn’t a faster way to END SHIN SPLINT PAIN than by going to see a physical therapist. Getting to see a hands-on specialist physical therapist means you’re going to get very fast access to care that will soothe and relax those tight aching muscles, loosen and lubricate stiff, stuck and painful joints, and strengthen your body so that you can go back to doing the things that you love. You can often leave a good physical therapist with concerns eased and physical pain reduced, inside 30-40 minutes.
Combine all of the “tips” in this Special Report with a trip to see a hands-on private physical therapist, and you will see a dramatic drop in your pain and stiffness you are currently suffering from.
So there you have it!
6 basic tips you can try and a week by week return to play/train/sport to point you in the right direction and avoid missing out on or delaying your favorite workout as fast as possible. There’s obviously much more to it, and we could go much more in-depth on ways to recover from injury quick, than just the principles we’ve given you here, but these fundamentals, if you apply them rigorously and are disciplined, will make a huge difference to the pace at which you recover.
If you are interested in learning more about Ways to Help Prevent Shin Splits and Get Back to Your Sport When Injured, then reach out to BodyFit Physical Therapy by emailing email@example.com or calling Cindy at 860-507-7365 to schedule a FREE Discovery Visit-A Consultation with a Physical Therapist.