Shin Splints: Steps for Prevention and Treatment

Shin splints. Even if you don’t know what they are, chances are you’ve experienced them once or twice in your life. You know that feeling you get when you’ve been running or jogging and suddenly you get this overwhelming pain in the muscles and tendons around your ankle? The kind of discomfort that makes it nearly impossible to even think about continuing? The kind of pain that has you reaching for your cell phone to ring up a ride?

Shin splints.

Of course, you knew somewhere deep down inside that there was an overly syllabic term for this discomfort that isn’t nearly as adjectivally perfect as the name shin splints right? Shin splints, medically speaking, is called medial tibial stress syndrome. I guess MTSS just doesn’t have much of a ring to it. The problem is that running, despite all the latest improvements in footwear, is an impact sport. Each time your foot comes down during a stride, the leg is acting as a shock absorber for up to three times your weight. Multiply that by how many strides you take during a two to five mile jog and the outlook ain’t rosy.

There’s probably no way yet to actually get a guaranteed pass on shin splits, but there are several steps you can take to reduce the risk. Obviously, you should already be stretching your legs before you hit the track or pavement, but let’s be honest: not every runner does. Or else you may just kind of give the stretching part lip service, so to speak, and rush through it. That’s a mistake. Stretching is vital if you are going to be jogging or running for a long distance, especially. You need to get that blood flowing and you want as much elasticity in your muscles and tendons as you can get. In concert with stretching, make sure you take your time warming up. Walk around a little bit, let your body get acclimated to whatever weather conditions are present. Taking your time also applies to cooling down.

The right kind of shoes may seem like an advertising ploy and for the most part it is. Except that you really do to make sure you’ve got the right kind of shoe for your foot, your distance, your stride and the terrain. Needless to say, if you are doing serious running you shouldn’t be in a shoe designed for basketball. Runners use different parts of their legs than b-ball players, as well as soccer players or baseball players for that matter. It matters far less what brand of shoe you get than that you get a shoe designed specifically for running. But don’t forget that not all shoes are designed for the same person. If you have high arch and you buy a shoe recommended by your buddy who has flat feet, guess what’s probably going to happen? Not only will you not feel as comfortable, but you may experience shin splints or other running-related problems. If you can afford it, and you run every day, get two pairs and alternate them. Not only will this help you avoid shin splints, but it will actually extend the life of the shoes.

If you are already experiencing shin splits, there are some steps you can take to get back into your running shoes without experiencing the pain. If you can already run without too much discomfort, that’s probably a sign you just need to spend more time warming up and cooling down. If you run with difficulty, take some time off. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop exercising, however. Instead, spend two weeks on a bike or a stair climber, or at least until the pain subsides. Then you can probably get back to running, though maybe not every day. After running, get an ice pack and rub it up and down your muscles for at least five minutes. If the pain persists, look to taking an extra strength pain reliever. Ibuprofen is probably the best thing on the market to deal specifically with the discomfort of shin splints.

Severe cases where not only is running impossible, but your everyday existence is marked by frequent pain, may require you to bite the bullet and sit out for a month or two. Take medication, do the ice massage thing and get rest. You’ll probably either be ready to give up exercise completely or get back into it before you’re ready. Try to stick with some other exercise to avoid the risk of falling out of the habit, but just as importantly don’t work your way back to running too soon. You’ll only worsen the problem and wind up not having any choice as to getting back to exercising.

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