CindySays: Shin splints are joggers' painful bane
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
I think I have shin splints. Any advice on how to make the pain in the front of my leg go away? I've started jogging, and a couple weeks into it, my shins were killing me. I'm 47 and have jogged in the past, but I admit I'm out of shape. I did warm up because I know that's important, but it obviously didn't do much good. I tried walking but had to stop that too because my lower legs hurt so bad. I really need the exercise, so I'd love to know how to get past this. -- Thanks, Jim
Anyone who has felt the pain you describe knows how unbearable it is. Shin splints can definitely put the skids on anyone's jogging habit.
What are shin splints?
Shin splints are a painful condition that occurs when the sheath that surrounds your tibia (muscle known as the anterior tibialis) becomes irritated and inflamed for one or more of these reasons:
Understanding why this condition occurs is important and can help prevent shin splints in the future. The tibia is the larger of the two bones between your ankle and knee. You experience pain when activity irritates the tiny fibers of the membrane that attach muscles to your tibia -- it's muscle-to-bone inflammation. You may also hear the catchall phrase "shin splints," also called periostitis, tendonitis and compartment syndrome. Bottom line is that stress on the lower leg is the culprit.
That stabbing pain between the knee and ankle is actually a frequent result when people begin a new activity that stresses that area of the lower leg, such as jogging, walking or sports that involve abrupt stops and starts. Most of the time it's not just the activity but overdoing the activity that causes the condition.
Kick shin splints to the curb
First, make sure you have an accurate diagnosis. Have it confirmed by a sports medicine physician. The pain is usually alleviated by taking time off or minimizing how often or how long you exercise, and therefore reducing the stress on the shin. If you gently massage with ice three to six times a day (20 minutes at a time), you'll reduce the inflammation that causes pain. This is by far the best home remedy for shin splints.
In the meantime, stay active by doing other activities that won't stress your lower leg. Water walking, swimming, cycling or upper-body strength training are great choices until you are pain-free.
When the pain is gone and you're ready to try again, do so in a gradual progressive manner with a slower pace, shorter distance and staying on softer surfaces such as grass to lessen the pounding on the legs. Also, remember to continue using ice after any activity to promote healing.
Shoes make a difference
Wearing proper, supportive footwear is the No. 1 thing you can do to prevent the onset of shin splints, especially if you have had them before. If you are doing a walk/run routine, then a running shoe is essential. This type of shoe will give you the maximum amount of shock absorption in the heel area to decrease the pounding forces. If you are wearing running shoes that have a lot of wear, they probably need to be replaced for the sake of your shins.
Shoes lose their ability to withstand shock after you have logged in more than 400 miles. Sometimes new cushioned inserts will extend the life of your shoes, but not for very long. Just because a shoe looks unworn or feels good on your foot, it doesn't mean it is capable of absorbing the amount of shock from walking or jogging.
Terrible "toos": We've all been through them -- doing too much, too hard, too soon in terms of physical activity. Give your body time to adjust to any new movement, and don't skip the warm-up. Start out with a gentle pace for five to 10 minutes, and gradually increase intensity.
Running on indoor tracks: Avoid them, as they are a poor surface, not only because they are hard and unforgiving, but they are also short with tight turns. People who run regularly indoors will often have problems with shin splints because of the added stress to the inside portion of their lower legs.
Unforgiving surfaces: Concrete is at the top of the list, asphalt is slightly better, dirt is more shock-absorbing that asphalt, grass is softer yet and some rubberized tracks are even better because they are resilient and void of bumps that could cause an injury.
Beware going downhill: If you regularly run or walk downhill, your foot strikes on the balls of the foot, which translates to lots of stress on the shins. Making quick changes in direction on hard surfaces also hard on the shins, so back off the abrupt stops and starts.
Balance your workout: Avoid doing the same movement all the time. Your body loves and thrives on variety. Jogging every other day is better than every day, and strength training with a focus on your legs is added protection from shin splints.
Mechanics are important: Make sure while jogging or walking that you are landing primarily on your heel first, rolling into the ball of your foot and pushing off through your toes. Landing flatfooted or on the ball of the foot is a great way to injure your shins as well as your knees.
Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.