How to Avoid Shin Pain

March 15, 2011

This post is an article I wrote for Fitblogger, but I wanted to share it with all of the PL&B readers, in case you missed it over there.

First, just a quick disclaimer; I’m not a doctor or healthcare professional. All of the information expressed in this post is from my own research and experience, so please don’t take it as the ultimate word in shin pain diagnosis/care. Everyone’s health needs are different, so get in touch with your doctor if you have any medical questions. This blog is for educational purposes only and should not replace individual medical advice.

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As a college athlete and post-college runner, shin splints and stress fractures have been something I’ve had to deal with since day one. The AstroTurf on our college lacrosse field was about 1 inch of green carpet on top of solid cement and every season I would play through the pain. After college, my first marathon ended with a stress fracture in my left tibia and me in a boot for over a month (to the chagrin of my left calf – the muscle atrophy was gross!)

Since then, I’ve had to seriously think about my training, cross-training and stretching regimen to accommodate (and more importantly, avoid) shin pain. Here are some tips that have worked for me:
Warm up your shins before heading out for a run. Some of my shin stretches/warm-ups include:
·         Walk on your heels for 30 seconds or so, alternating walking on your heels and regular walking. Do these until you feel the muscles around your shins working.
·         Tap your toes on the ground, alternating feet, until you feel the muscles around your shins working
·         Write the alphabet in the air or on the floor with your big toe, repeat with the other leg
·         Kneel on a carpeted floor, legs and feet together and toes pointed directly back. Then slowly sit back onto your calves and heels, pushing your ankles into the floor until you feel tension in the muscles of your shin. Hold for 10 to 12 seconds, relax and repeat.
Wrap your legs before going out for a run. You can buy compression sleeves at just about any running store, or just use athletic tape or an ace bandage. This will help bind the tendons up against the shaft of your tibia (your shin bone) to prevent over stressing it.
Add cross-training to your running schedule. Try swimming, aqua-jogging or riding a bike. There are innumerable reasons to cross-train as well as run, but giving your legs a break from the impact of running is very beneficial to your shins. Not only that, the strengthening of other muscle groups from cross-training will help increase your running efficiency and make you an stronger runner overall.
Slowly increase mileage. Many training schedules use the 10% rule, increasing mileage by about 10% per week. This might even be too much for runners plagued with shin pain. If you are training for a race, consider lengthening your training schedule so you can slow the mileage increase. Doing too much, too soon is the easiest way to end a season with shin trouble.
Run the trails. Trails generally have softer surfaces than the roads. This reduces the impact on your joints and can help quell shin pain. Additionally, the uneven surface of a trail can help you strengthen your ankles which can also help alleviate pain in your shins. 

Get new running shoes.  Make sure your running shoes aren’t worn out, as this can contribute to shin pain and other running related injuries. Most running shoes are made to withstand 300-500 miles, so make sure you are keeping track!
Try run/walk training. The combination of running and walking greatly reduces the impact on your muscles and enhances recovery. Try running for 3 minutes and walking for 2 minutes, for a training run. As the weeks go on, build to running for 4 minutes and walking for 2 minutes and continue to build to running 4 minutes, walking 1 minute. This type of training is a good way to avoid injury.
Get your calcium! Whether it’s from milk, spinach or a regular calcium supplement, we all know calcium = good, strong bones. To run strong, we need a strong skeletal system to support us. This is particularly important for women.
Increase your stride rate by taking smaller, quicker steps. Some studies have shown that increasing your stride rate gives you the same type of benefit that running barefoot does; it takes you from a heel strike to a midfoot strike, thereby reducing impact with the ground; it ameliorates the aches and pains of running; it helps correct your running form. Although there are more impacts, they’re significantly smaller ones.
There is one more very important thing to know about shin pain; know the difference between shin splints and a stress fracture. With shin splints, the pain is a bit duller and more difficult to pinpoint to an exactly location. A stress fracture will manifest itself as a sharp pain in a specific location. In both cases, discontinuing your running to let yourself heal is the ideal way to relieve shin pain, but shin splints can also be relieved by taking some of the advice I’ve offered. Stress fractures mean you need to stop running and let them heal. If this is the case, use non-impact cross training exercises to keep yourself in shape and ready to (slowly) start running again.
Peace, Love & Bagels,

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