Spring marks the beginning of the running season for many fitness enthusiasts who have been cooped up for the long, hard winter. As the runners hit the pavement, shin splints can become a real nightmare for runners and coaches who are trying to keep their athletes in the game. Shin splints are usually exercise induced by over training or improper training. Here are some tips to help prevent shin splints and avoid injury:
* Proper warm-up — Incorporate gentle stretching exercises into your warm-ups before and after your run to improve flexibility.
* Proper strengthening — Consult with your physician or physical therapist about strengthening and stretching exercises to help prevent shin splints. Exercises may include: toe lifts, ankle flexes, ankle lifts, ankle rolls, toe extensions, toe grabs, toe walks, heel walks and walking inward and outward. Also strengthening hip abductors and extensions may be helpful.
* Proper footwear — Incorrect shoes can lead to insufficient control of foot mechanics. Do not wear shoes that are worn out. Replace running shoes every 400 to 600 miles to ensure that your feet and legs have proper support and cushioning. Wear athletic shoes that provide ample support and fit well. Also, alternate shoes every other workout. Purchase your shoes at a store that has knowledgeable staff that can assess your gait (stride) and foot type. Ask them to measure both of your feet to ensure that you buy the correct size. It is also a good idea to purchase shoes at the end of the day when your feet are swollen. Make sure to wear a pair of running socks during the shoe fitting.
* Inserts and orthotics — Runners should consider using over-the-counter inserts or custom orthotics if they have abnormal biomechanics and lower extremity stress injuries. Orthotics is especially important if you have flat feet.
* Running surface — Try to run on a softer surface like grass or dirt to reduce impacts, and on level terrain. Avoid steep grades, especially declines.
* Cross train — It’s wise to balance running with other cross training exercises that are non-aggressive and low-impact to reduce stress on the feet and legs. Aquatics, swimming, cycling and elliptical training are excellent low-impact activities for consideration.
* Modify training schedules — Don’t over train. Gradually increase your distance, duration and speed over time.
* Proper running mechanics — Poor running form can generate all sorts of problems. Your physician or physical therapist can give you mechanical tips about avoiding inflammation to the anterior and posterior muscles, tendons and soft tissue along the shin bone.
* Rest — The best treatment for shin splints is to stop running and doing activities that are not prone to impacts. Do not resume running until the pain is gone. Then, start out slowly to avoid recurring problems.
* Cold therapy — Icing the injured area helps reduce pain and inflammation.
* Elevation and compression — Elevate your legs after a workout to reduce inflammation and consider wearing compression stockings at night.
* Over-the-counter-medicine — Ibuprofen or Naproxen help relieve pain and swelling. Tylenol helps relieve pain.
If pain from shin splints gets worse and persists over time, consult with your physician. Shin splints may signal a more serious problem in your lower leg like a stress fracture or compartmental syndrome. Proper diagnosis of the cause of pain is necessary to administer the most appropriate treatment.
If you suffer from shin pain, contact the Foot & Ankle Center of Illinois at (217) 787-2700 for an evaluation and proper treatment.