Overcoming Shin Splints

city runner

Overcoming Shin Splints by Jeff Marsick

Nearly every activity requires walking or running. The easiest and most inexpensive way to get into or stay in shape is to simply lace up a pair of sneakers, step off the front stoop, and take off, turning laps around trails, roads, basketball courts, or tracks. Weekend warriors play football and softball, while veterans do triathlons and marathons.

Many of these people have been dormant since the previous competitive season, and instead of easing into the activity, they have started the new training program with the same intensity and effort that they finished with. The next day they chalk up lower leg pain to just being “a little rusty”.

But in a couple weeks those lower legs will hurt so badly that even walking to the bathroom causes a three-alarm agony. Stretching doesn’t help, and even though a few days off does, it comes right back after a short run. A visit to the doctor and the culprit is discovered: shin splints.

Fortunately, you don’t need to hang up your sneakers or find a new activity. With a few easy exercises you can get back on your feet, minus the excruciating pain.

Leaning Toe Raises: Lean back against a wall with your heels about a foot away. Lift your toes off the ground, trying to get them to touch your shins, then slowly lower them close to the floor without touching. Now bring them back up. Do this 12-15 times. Take a 30 second rest, and do it again. When you can do three sets of 15 pain-free, you can do the exercise one leg at a time.

Step-Downs: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, take a normal step forward, and when your heel makes contact, don’t let the ball of your foot touch the floor. Return your leg to the starting position and repeat. Do this 15 times for each leg. Once three sets of 15 is easy, do this exercise with a longer step, and a longer step after that. After about four weeks, you can progress to stepping down from a bench or small height. Again, the object is to land on your heel and keep your toes off the floor.

Keep in mind that shin splints are most often caused by too much, too soon. Back off on your intensity for a few weeks and then slowly raise it until you are where you started.

Stretching after you exercise is a must, and using ice massage or ice packs along the side of your shin will also have a huge benefit. One great thing to do is take a half dozen Dixie cups, fill them with water, and put them in the freezer. After your run, rip off the rim of the cup and run the ice along your shin for eight minutes to lower any inflammation.

If, no matter what you do, shin splints and running (or walking) go together like peanut butter and jelly, you may have to change your shoes and have your feet fitted for orthotics from your podiatrist or chiropractor.

Coyright 2006 Jeff Marsick. Dr. Marsick is a former Coast Guard officer, now a sports chiropractor and nutritionist based in Fairfield, CT, USA. A competitive swimmer all his life, he also provides one-on-one coaching for triathletes looking to improve their swimming times. He can be reached at DrMarsick@yahoo.com.

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