How to prevent shin splints
You’re out, you’re running, you’ve made a commitment to getting healthy when … ouch. Struck down by shin splints. They’re painful and every time you try to run or jump, a sharp pain shoots right up your shin, streaming through the bone. It’s a blow – both to your fitness efforts and your health. Because you know that once you stop, it’s super hard to get back on the workout bandwagon.
“The causes of shin splints are still being researched, but the most common theories are overuse, flat feet, incorrect technique, high impact activities and running shoes,” says Vanessa Leone, Movement Therapist for Virgin Active. “They’re more prevalent when someone has been doing high impact exercise, but the reason some people can do that and not get them and others can’t, comes down to their muscles or joints not handling the load very well.”
Leone suggests stretching muscles properly after exercise, and investing in a foam roller can help prevent them.
“I’d recommend foam rolling calves and adductors – the inside leg of your thigh too,” she says. “Stretching hip flexors and outsides of hips is also really important. If your hips or glutes aren’t moving very well, the high impact movement reverberates down into the lower legs and causes shin splints or a number of other issues.”
The key then, is to keep moving and be as flexible as you can be. Incorporate foam rolling into a weekly routine and if you’re seated in an office, make sure you get up and around during the day as much as possible.
If you’re a runner and you want to prevent shin splints, you might want to get your running technique professionally checked out.
“Running technique is all about force mitigation and how effective your body distributes that force into your glutes, hamstrings, quads and core. Depending on your running style and shoe it is probably best to get someone to film your technique and look for things like internal-external rotation, body position on foot strike and how long your strides are. It is best to leave this to a professional, however a great app to use is Coach’s Eye,” says Leone .
If you’ve already got the dreaded shin splints, traditional medicine tells us to stay off the feet and rest. Ice the area and use anti-inflammatories to deal with the pain. If you’re after a more holistic approach, go and see an osteopath or physiotherapist.
“An allied health professional will look at running gait and your body mechanics, to help the solve the problem and keep shin splints from returning,” says Leone. “Swimming is fantastic exercise to do during this time if you can, or even just running laps in the pool can benefit you by unloading the body and keeping your fitness up. You can also continue to foam roll and massage the affected area and especially your hip joint area, glutes and hip flexors. Shin splints can be notoriously chronic and if not looked after quickly and correctly can continue to be painful for a long time.”
You should also steer clear of high impact exercise if you have shin splints, as you can make them worse or cause a stress fracture. Find other ways to move your body and stay fit – not everything involves jumping up and down!
“Get in the pool or do yoga and Pilates to help strengthen and lengthen. Book in for a consultation with a trainer to give you advice on where to go from here.”
Top 4 training tips for people with shin splints
1. Stretch those hip flexors. Stand and put one foot out in front, bend to a low lunge. The back leg should be slightly bent and you should be on your back toes. Feel the stretch in the front of your hip – that’s your hip flexor.
2. Find a golf ball, or better yet massage ball, and roll the underside of your foot and arch.
3. Book into a foam rolling class for some great recovery tips.
4. Strengthen your core and glutes in dynamic standing movements.
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