A few of you have asked questions about what to do for shin splints. Over the years, I have found that “shin splints” is something people use to describe pain in their lower leg. There is specific medical terminology and other technical gobbledygook which clarifies what exactly the pain in the lower leg is, but what I’d like to focus on in this article is what has worked for me and people I have trained with and coached. Here are a few secrets:
Secret #1: Typically, shin splints are an “overuse injury”, so my first recommendation would be to read the article on overuse injuries written by Dr. Scharmann and Dr. Blackham. Okay, now that you’ve read that, let’s move on to the other secrets on my list.
Secret #2: Keep a log and evaluate any recent changes you made in your training. I always take a look at my log when I start feeling any aches and pains. Did I change something a little too quickly? What surfaces have I been running on lately? If I realize I made a mistake, I adjust and make sure that I don’t repeat it. If it doesn’t look like I made a drastic quantity or intensity change, then I move on to the next item on my shin splints secrets list to see if I can isolate the problem.
Secret #3: Take a look at your shoe situation. You guessed it – I look at my log. If you don’t track your shoe mileage in your log, you should start now. Usually you can get anywhere between 300 and 500 miles on a pair of shoes. Obviously, that is just a general estimate and your weight, running style and other factors could impact how many miles you’ll get out of a pair of shoes. When I get toward the tail end of what a pair of shoes can take, I start feeling things like shin splints. You may just need a new pair of shoes. And since we’re talking about shoes… you really should go to a specialty running store and make sure you’re in the right kind of shoe depending on your level of pronation or supination.
You’ll notice that those first three really deal with prevention. Educate yourself on injury issues, make sure you’re in the right shoes and don’t make poor training decisions and you’ll be able to avoid dealing with shin splints (and other injuries) most of the time. If you weren’t able to prevent them this go around, you’ll definitely want to keep reading.
Secret #4: Ice. Sounds simple, but the secret is that you don’t just throw an ice pack on your leg or stick your leg in a bucket. I recommend freezing water in some disposable cups. Put enough of them in your freezer to give you a good supply. By good supply, I mean at least one cup per leg twice a day for 2-3 days. If you want, you can just freeze new cups each night rather than freezing a full supply. As for the cups, you can get the wax-coated paper kind and peel them away as you massage your shins with the ice or you can use plastic cups. If you use plastic cups you have to run it under some warm water so that the ice will slide out and then I hold the ice with a washcloth or rag. As you massage your legs, the ice melts and you end up icing for about 15-20 minutes.
Secret #5: Stretch. I think that it is very important for stretching to be a regular part of your training regimen. I have found that, for me, stretching is an incredible injury prevention tool. When it comes to shin splints, you’ve obviously got to focus on your lower leg (calves, soleus, Achilles). There are many stretches and strengthening exercises which can help you focus on your lower leg. A simple stretch I recommend, and many people have found effective, is what I call the ABC stretch or the alphabet stretch. To do the ABC stretch, first, lie flat on your back with your legs extended. Next, bring one leg up so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Support your leg by holding your calf with both hands. Then, draw the alphabet with your big toe. You’ll feel your muscles begin to loosen up and lengthen as you move through the alphabet. I’ve been asked before if you should draw upper case or lower case and I usually tell people all caps.
Secret #6: Massage. I’ve found that anytime you’re dealing with a muscle or tendon issue that massage can make all the difference in the world for both prevention and healing. Taking some time to massage the affected area can help with getting you warmed up for a workout. It might also be a good idea to apply a heat pad to help you get prepped for a run. Massage and heat after a workout can also help the healing process. My main point, though, is that you should use massage as a maintenance and prevention tool. Having someone regularly work on your calves and lower legs is a great way to prevent shin splints.
Secret #7: Take some time off. If you’re like me, you hate taking time off. However, it’s important to remember that in order to achieve your long-term goals you may need to take a little time off. Don’t sacrifice a long-term goal, just because you think you can “train through the pain”. The key to long-term success is to stay healthy. I’ve found that most of the time these secrets have helped me to get through a minor bout of shin splints, but remember a few days of rest can go a long way.
Good luck! May you run many miles with happy shins!
by Ken Richardson – Runner | UtahRunning.com’s biggest fan