By Chris Freytag
For those of you who have experienced them, you understand how this little bit of nagging pain in your shins can sideline you for days or weeks on end. I hear a lot of complaints from clients and friends at this time of the year when people are starting up new spring walking/running routines. Everyone is excited to become more active in the warmer weather, but some become derailed by shin splints.
Shin splints are the pains that radiate on the front of the lower legs (the shins) and can show up in new runners and power walkers, those who walk or run on hard surfaces and those who either overpronate (roll their feet inward as they walk or run, flattening the inner arches) or oversupinate (roll their feet outward as they walk or run). No matter how many anti-inflammatories you take or ice packs you use, the symptoms may continue to recur.
In some cases, changing to a softer running surface may be the cure. Try to avoid always running on hard pavements, since they offer little to no shock absorption. Occasionally switch to running or walking on grass, gravel or even sand (if you are lucky enough to be near the beach) to reduce the shock that passes through the legs when running on hard surfaces.
For those who overpronate or oversupinate, your biomechanical problems may be resolved by a shoe insert called an “orthotic.” You can buy decent inserts at the drug store, but, in extreme cases, going to a podiatrist and getting custom inserts may be necessary.
In addition, remember to increase your outdoor mileage gradually. If you haven’t run or walked all winter and start out of the gates with a daily five mile outdoor power walk, you may end up overworking your muscles. I love the enthusiasm, but try increasing your distance moderately to avoid shin splints.
Cross training — alternating between various forms of exercise — can also be helpful, because it reduces the constant stress to one or several muscles groups.
Lastly, stretching is the most underrated form of therapy and relief. Don’t forget to stretch!
You can also help avoid shin splints by doing exercises that strengthen the area where they occur. The underlying cause of shin splints is weakness in the tibialis anterior — the lower leg muscle where the pain can be felt. In order to avoid a repetitive cycle of recurring shin splints, try doing these exercises on a daily basis to strengthen your shins:
1. Walk across the room on your heels two to three times a day, then build repetitions gradually. You should be able to feel this in your shins.
2. While standing or sitting, lift your foot slightly off the ground and draw the alphabet with your toes. Repeat on the other side.
3. Flex and point your toes any time you are seated. This habit can easily be built into your daily routine.