So, you’re running, getting your pace up, feeling great, when all of a sudden you get sharp pain running up the front of your shin. It might be a little uncomfortable and not too noticeable, or it can be searing pain that causes you to stop your awesome run.
It could be a stress fracture; however, it is more likely to be something known as medial tibial stress syndrome (or a shin splint to you and me). It’s something that new runners or old pros can get and affect more than just runners. Dancers, gymnasts, and athletes can get them too if they don’t warm up properly or are wearing the wrong running shoes.
If left untreated it can cause more pain and even result in permanent damage. But don’t worry—early onset shin splints are easily treatable.
How do you know if you have shin splints?
Besides the pain, here are some of the most telling symptoms of shin splints:
- Shins throb after running
- Lower legs burning
- Pain along or behind the shinbone (e.g. tibia)
- Aching front lower leg
- Pain during exercise in the lower leg
- Muscle pain in the shin
- Inner leg soreness
- Pain along either side of the shin bone
If that sounds like you, you might have shin splints.
What causes shin splints?
Shin splints result from excess stress to the tibia and its subsequent muscles. It most commonly affects runners. Though it’s not just running, beginners are more likely to get shin splints because they get excited and begin their run without doing proper warm-up first.
Worse, beginner runners tend to try to run long distances without properly building up their leg muscles to handle such stress. Thus, the brunt of the pain is felt in the thin bone and muscles along the front lower leg.
Not only that but where you run also matters when it comes to shin splints. If you’re a trail runner and have become accustomed to feeling grass or dirt under your feet, transitioning to asphalt or a hard-rubber track will cause some strain on your shins. The hardness of the surface increases the amount of force absorbed into the shin (since it’s not going into the ground), so be sure to properly stretch both before and after a run in a harder running location.
Wearing improper footwear can be another cause. Make sure you are wearing the correct pair of shoes.
To sum up:
- Excess running
- Running without warming up
- Running long distances when you haven’t trained for it
- Shifting running areas (e.g. dirt to asphalt, grass to track)
- Incorrect running shoes
You’re now up to date on what shin splints are and what causes them. Now is the time to show you the best exercises to properly stretch the shin muscles and prevent shin splints from happening.
1) Front Stretch
This is by far the best exercise for stretching your shin and preventing shin splints. On a raised surface (such as a stair step or curb) place your toes on the edge of the surface. Then, bend your knee slightly and lean forward. You should feel a stretch in your shin. Lean back and then repeat the exercise ten times for each leg. Be sure to do this standing for maximum stretch efficiency.
2) Curb Stretches
Again, this exercise requires a curb, stair step, shoe box, any raised surface strong enough to handle your weight. Then, with your toes on the edge, drop your heels lower and lower down the curb until you feel a stretch in your calves. Raise yourself back up, and repeat. Do this ten times for each foot.
3) Toe Curls
This one stretches the front of your lower leg and can be done anywhere. Lying down on the ground, point your toes up to the ceiling. Then, curl your toes into themselves as if you were trying to hold a pencil under them. Flex your toes back towards you, as if you’re trying to point to your face, then curl them again. This gives you max mobility out of your toes and properly stretches the shin. For added stretching, point and flex your ankle as well.
4) Calf Raises
Where the second exercise stretches your calves going downward, this exercise will stretch your calves going upward. And, best of all, it can be done anywhere that offers a sturdy and balanced surface.
Your feet can either be together or shoulder length apart. With the feet flat on the floor, lift yourself off the ground as high as you can go. The only thing connecting you to the ground should be the balls of your toes, and you should have gained a few inches in height. Lower yourself back down, then repeat the exercise all over again. Do this until you feel a slight burning in your calves. That’s how you know you’ve got the best stretch out of them.
For extra strength stretching, do only one-footed calf stretching at a time. That way there’s more weight on a calf and it gets stretched more.
5) Heel to Toe Walk
This one not only stretches your shins but helps improve balance and coordination as well. It’s simple: start walking slowly, but when you walk, put your heel right in front of your toes so that the two make a connected line. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible and you should feel a slight pull from your shins. This would be a great exercise to cool off your legs after a great stretching session with all other exercises.
Remember that the best way to prevent shin splints is to allow your shins to rest. Don’t run strenuously every day and don’t run on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. If you treat your shins well, they’ll treat you well too. You’ll be able to continue your runs without having to worry about pain or permanent damage to your legs.
Always be conscious of the sustainability of your legs. Sprints and running blitzes may feel fine initially, but they can wreak havoc on your body later on. Like the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race.” By taking things slow and stretching your body thoroughly before and after runs, you’ll be able to prolong the health and capability of your body for years to come.