Shin splints are one of the most common injuries that plague runners, in fact about 30-40% of runners will develop this painful condition. When running or walking, your shins have to bear up to six times your weight when your foot hits the ground, and if the muscles and surrounding tissue become inflamed, this can result in pain in the front of the lower leg.
Shin splints are considered an overuse injury and often occur when runners or walkers do too much too soon. But there are steps you can take to help avoid this painful condition and to prevent shin pain from sidelining your running plans.
Get the right running shoes. Make sure you’re wearing the right shoes for your gait. Some people need shoes with added motion control support and stability while others benefit from added cushioning. It’s best to go to a running store to have them evaluate the type of shoes that are best for your foot strike and running style. You should also replace your running shoes every 300-500 miles. Shoes that don’t have enough cushioning can lead to shin splints.
Step up training slowly. One of the most common reasons for this painful injury is doing too much too soon. If you increase your mileage too quickly or don’t allow for adequate rest between runs, you increase your chance of getting shin splints. Try to focus on only one aspect of training at a time, such as mileage/duration, speed or frequency.
Schedule rest and cross-training days. Your body can’t run every day or you risk getting shin splints or other overuse injuries. Schedule in 1 or 2 cross-training days a week as well as at least one complete rest day. Cross-training can consist of activities such as weight-training, swimming, yoga or biking.
Vary running surfaces. Running on hard surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt roads and sidewalks, increases the impact on your muscles, joints and bones when you land as compared to running on softer surfaces such as dirt trails or grass. Aim to vary your terrain as much as possible so your legs don’t take a continual beating from landing on hard surfaces. Even getting in some runs on a treadmill will ease some of the impact on your body compared to running on the street.
Focus on running form. Landing on the middle of your foot can help prevent shin splints. When you land on your heels, you create a lot of stress on your lower legs and landing on your toes overworks your calf muscles. Both of these can lead to shin splints. Maintaining proper gait is essential to avoiding injury.
Strengthen and stretch. By strengthening your feet, ankles, calves, glutes and hips, you’ll help support your shins. Simple exercises such as heel drops and toe curls can strengthen the muscles in your calves and shins. It’s also important to adequately stretch your calves after a run. If you start to feel mild shin pain during a run, take a break to stretch your calves. But if the pain is more severe or gets worse, take a break from running, ice and massage your calf muscles and give your shin time to heal.