How to Avoid Shin Splints

Woman Sprinting
You can’t sprint with shin splints

Isn’t it obvious that we wouldn’t have to know how to recover from shin splints if we could avoid them in the first place? In order to understand how to avoid shin splints, we must first understand What Are Shin Splints. Then we can better understand how to proactively avoid them. We need to learn more about who gets shin splints, how to properly warm up and stretch the lower leg, and finally we need a method of strengthening those muscles. Assuming we can’t avoid shin splints, we will need to understand How to Treat Shin Splints.

Now, let’s examine the best ways to avoid shin splints by first understanding who is in danger of developing them.

Who Gets Shin Splints?

Athletes, weekend warriors, and even military recruits often experience shin splints, especially at the beginning of the season. Sometimes treatment can be as simple as changing to softer running surface or adding extra arch support to shoes to redistribute the stress. Active rest is often recommended by doctors as a primary treatment. This means that a runner should take up non-impact exercises such as swimming or biking, which gives the injured areas time to heal, but also maintains the cardiovascular benefits of exercise.

It is also believed that people with misalignment often develop problems such as shin splints. Misalignment to the knee, pelvis, ankle, neck, and spine, can result in abnormal posture and abnormal ROM at different joints, which causes excessive wear and tear on bones, joints, and muscles.

How to Avoid Shin Splints

We all know at this point that it is important to warm up before exercise. Michael W. Krzyzewski of the Human Performance Laboratory (K Lab) at Duke University, recommends a slow warm-up period of about 10 minutes as the best way to prepare the body for exertion. He recommends graduated intensity over the 10 minute warm-up using exercises related to the upcoming exercise. Athletes can also use heat treatment, applying a heat pack for 15-20 minutes before starting exercise.

Shin splints caused by tight calf and shin muscles can be avoided by stretching on a daily basis and even receiving sports massage to improve flexibility. Stretching before exercise is controversial, with experts arguing both for and against it, as a preventive measure for avoiding injuries such as shin splints.

Most experts agree that static stretching major muscle groups like the back, chest, quadriceps, and hamstrings is bad for performance that involves intense exertion, such as powerlifting, sprinting, and jumping. Some experts also believe that static stretching for smaller muscle groups like the calves, anterior tibialis, biceps, and forearms, can prevent overuse and stress related injuries. Dynamic stretching is almost always recommended by doctors and physical therapists, as one of the best ways to prevent exercise related injury.

Never stretch a cold muscle and always be sure to stretch after exercise!

Proper footwear should be worn at all times during exercise. Use shock absorbing insoles in shoes to help reduce the shock on the lower leg. Most athletic shoes should be replaced after 250-500 hours of use during exercise. Biomechanical problems such as over-pronation and supination can be corrected using running shoes or insoles (orthotics). Ensure that your training shoes are suitable your foot type and for your sport.

Runners should try to avoid running on hard pavement, which provides no shock absorption. Instead, try running on tarmac, grass, sand, or a running track, to absorb some of the shock to the legs. Also, as a rule of thumb, running distances should not increase by more than 10% per week. This helps to ensure the muscles are not overworked. For example, after completing a total of 10 miles in one week, do not run more than 11 miles the next week.

Also try to keep your front stride short and your back stride long. This has a side effect of generating more running power as well, since you are able to push off your back foot more often and with more force.

Toe Flexes to Strengthen Your Shin Muscles

This exercise builds the shin muscle, the anterior tibialis muscle on the front side of your lower leg. If you experience shin pain when walking or running, this is the muscle group that is complaining. It flexes the foot upwards, and it complains if you haven’t been doing much walking or running and then try to leap into an intense exercise routine. This exercise will develop the muscle to prevent shin pain.

Toe Flexes

  1. Find a step so you can stand facing away from the step, with your heels on the step and your toes hanging over the drop off.
  2. Hold onto a railing or chair for balance.
  3. Flex your toes up towards your shins as far as you can. Hold this for a second.
  4. Release and lower your toes.
  5. Repeat 8 to 10 times.
Shin Stretch
Shin Stretch

Standing Anterior Tibialis Shin Stretch

This stretch is for the anterior tibialis muscle on the front of your lower leg. Its action is to flex the foot upwards. This muscle mostly gets a workout in running, walking, and sports like tennis which have a lot of little sprints. This is also called the “toe drag stretch”.

Shin Stretch

  1. Standing, you may want to use a hand on a wall or other support for balance.
  2. Place the foot to be stretched just behind your other foot (which remains squarely on the ground), with the toe of the stretching foot touching the ground.
  3. Keeping your toe firmly on the ground, pull the stretching leg forward so you feel a stretch from the top of your stretching foot through your shins. It often helps to bend both knees slightly.
  4. Once you feel a good stretch, hold it for 15-30 seconds.
  5. Repeat with the other foot.

This exercise can also be done from a seated position on the ground or in a chair, with the stretched leg underneath you. It is slightly more inconvenient than the standing version, especially in the middle of exercise. You can also lie on your side and grasp your toes from behind, similar to a lying quadriceps stretch.

So that’s it. Warm up right, stretch your calves and shins, wear correct footwear, and fix any problems with your biomechanics. Shin splints are avoidable if you just pay close attention to what you body is telling you.

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4 Responses to “How to Avoid Shin Splints”

  1. I’ve never really had a problem with shin splints, but I had a buddy in high school who got them nearly every day. They troubled him incessantly during tennis conditioning…

  2. I agree! Totally hate shin splints.

    I thought I was forever banned from the treadmill I used to get them SO bad. I tried all the quick fixes like always running with an incline on the treadmill, and doing the special stretches, but nothing ever seemed to work.

    Then I really started focusing on working-out my legs with exercises like squats, extensions, curls, etc (something I used to HATE more than shin splints) and voila! Goodbye shin splints. Kind of a “duh” moment for me really. 🙂

  3. I HATE shin splints. I’ve had them twice, once so bad that I nearly quite the track team in high school. The toe flexes and stretches is the only thing that made them get better.

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