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Preventing Shin Splints

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA

Dear F&F: I started running in 2010 and quickly discovered that my weak arches are what caused the leg pain I experienced, the knee pain (kneecap slides) and the bursitis that formed just below my knee.  But, I’ve worked on taping the knees and strengthening the muscle there.
While training lately for a half marathon, I often get shin splints along the inside of my calf as well as up the front.  I know I have to rest it, then strengthen that front muscle. What are good exercises to work that muscle?
Amy, @splintergirl

Picture of shin splints

All that red looks like a giant, painful splinter!

Alexandra: Hey Amy, we are almost BFFs now, because you are so good about sending us questions (we just answered one from Amy about half marathons). We moved your question up the queue since we know your race is pretty soon. First of all, you have to be pain free before you can do strengthening exercises. Freeze water in a Dixie cup. Before and after your runs, ice down your shins, peeling away the cup as the ice melts.

Kymberly: Not to shirk my duty here, but my advice is to check with your medical professional. I always advocate solving the root of the problem, which are weak arches, in your case. Why are they weak? What is causing their collapse? All the issues you describe emanate from the arch collapse, so until you address the biomechanical or anatomical issues there, you will always be playing catch up with your injuries. I feel like the grinch of running, but there it is. Think of it this way — you have an issue at the bottom of your body — the arches. You feel a problem higher up the body — the shins, and not surprisingly the pain travels higher, reaching your knees. Next up the chain– back pain. Do you see where I am going with this? Up and up unless you go back down, all the way down to the arches. Solve that issue and the others get solved as well.

Nevertheless, we can and do offer you some ideas for strengthening your shin area as you work to resolve the original problem of collapsed arches. Does that get me out of grinch status to ultimate “gifter?”

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A: Another thing – get an insole insert to go under your arch. Shin splints occur with over pronation or overuse, and inflammation occurs due to the injury at the posterior peroneal tendon and anterior portion of the lower leg. So you need to keep the arch up to prevent overuse of those muscles that lift your foot. And break in the inserts in before your race.

K: Surprise, surprise, but Alexandra and I don’t always agree. For instance, I am not a big fan of inserts. At most, use them temporarily or the muscles that are designed to lift your arch will atrophy even more. Will inserts help get you through this race more safely and with less pain? Probably. The long term solution is to strengthen the tibialis posterior, tibialis anterior, and the foot musculature.

Try barefoot sand walking (I was about to say “beach walking” but not everyone is as lucky as a ducky to live near a beach). Also do heel raises, standing barefoot and lifting in an almost pigeon-toed direction with the toes straight ahead and the ankles thrusting outwards as you rise up. (You can see the move in this short video from “not us”). This exercise will specifically help the posterior tibialis and cut down on the pain you are describing.

Lastly, maybe change your twitter handle from “splintergirl” to something that avoids the word “splints” and does not sound so painful. Yowzah!

Picture credit: Mayo Clinic

About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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13 Responses to Preventing Shin Splints

  1. Amy Good (splintergirl) October 3, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    You are 100% correct! I may have to change my handle! I loved the out take section too.

    Seriously, though. I do wear inserts in my shoes for my arches. I think the main issue started when I changed them. I’ve since gone back to the old set up. I will be working those toe lifts and ankle exercises in the evenings as much as possible…once the inflammation goes down!

    You both rock and I appreciate you answering so quickly!

  2. John Poole October 3, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    Ten years ago, I had chronic shin splints. I believe all I did to address them was increase my recovery time between runs, with a lot more stretching after my runs, and I think I also spent some time doing heel life exercises to build a bit more strength. At some point, they just disappeared. But I was not running with any particular objectives or deadlines for races, half-marathons, etc., so I was able to take my time with treating them and recovering from them. I actually the increased recovery time was the main solution.

    • AlexandraFunFit October 3, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      Well, now you know what to do. People with well-developed calves who do not also pay attention to their shins end up with an imbalance! So perhaps you have to start becoming more balanced!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Wrong & Right Way to Do a SquatMy Profile

      • John Poole October 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

        But life would be so less interesting if I were “balanced”! And, oh, by the way….CUTE SHOES! Especially the blue! :-D

        • Alexandra October 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

          You are seriously weird, as those shoes are purple and neon green! Must be an east coast thing!

          • Kymberly October 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

            Hold on a minute there! I am SURE John Poole was talking to me. My shoes had a tiny hint of blue in them if you squint and look sideways. The word “cute” and “Me” are going into the same sentence!
            Kymberly recently posted..Fitness Secrets and Details Revealed About K & AMy Profile

  3. MoreAlike October 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi Gang,

    Great advice…and how timely. My daughter runs cross-country for her high school and has recently developed shin splints. In her case it may be overuse but the advice here will certainly add to the body of knowledge she is developing around fitness in general.

    Many thanks!

    Mike

    • Alexandra October 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

      Well, now she will know what to do so she can keep running. Glad it’s helpful.

  4. Celestine October 4, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    I will be working those toe lifts and ankle exercises in the evenings as much as possible…once the inflammation goes down! those kind of shoes are purple and neon green! Must be an east coast thing!Great advice…
    Celestine recently posted..About UsMy Profile

  5. Josh Vales October 5, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    What a timely written blog post! I’ve been experiencing shin splints lately for the first time in my life. I used to run a lot more than I do now… and never had a problem before.

    I was thinking it could be the new shoes.. but I had no idea what causes shin splints in the first place. Now I know it’s your arches. So, it could in fact be my new shoes (they don’t support me). Thanks for the article!
    Josh Vales recently posted..The Upper Body Workout for Women That’ll Make You Love Your Body AgainMy Profile

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