Five Ways to Avoid Shin Splints
By Rick Morris
Shin splints, which is a rather generic term used to describe one of several injuries to the muscles and connective tissues of your lower legs, is a very common and aggravating problem for distance runners. It’s also one that can often be avoided by making some changes in the way you run and train. Here are five ways to help you avoid shin splints.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go streaking in your local park and risk a day in jail. You can keep your shorts and singlet on. Try going naked from the ankle down. Barefoot running is one of the best ways to avoid shin splints. Most cases of shin splints are caused by weak stabilizing muscles in your lower leg. Those muscles are responsible for controlling lateral, linear and rotary motions of your foot and ankle. The over supporting shoes we have been told are necessary for injury prevention actual prevent those muscles from working and they become weak. Shin splints are often the result. Running barefoot will get those muscles working again, making them stronger and more injury resistant. Be sure you gradually work into running barefoot. Start with short bouts of barefoot walking and slowly advance to running short distance without shoes.
Since weak lower leg muscles is a common cause of shin splints and shin pain you obviously want to maximize the strength of those muscles. Barefoot running will improve your strength, but some lower leg conditioning drills and exercises will accelerate the process. Do these lower leg strengthening exercises three times per week and you will be on your way to a shin splint free running life.
Anything that causes high impact or excessive lateral or linear motion of your foot can increase your risk of suffering from shin splints. Heel striking causes all of those things. When you land on your heel you are creating a lot of impact on your foot, ankle, knee and hip. You are also placing a tremendous amount of stress on the dorsi flexing muscles on the front of your lower leg as they try to prevent your toes from “slapping” the ground. The combination of high impact and increased muscular stress are a cause of shin splints. Be sure you land on the ball of your foot directly under your center of gravity. That will give you a more impact free stride and remove the stress placed on your dorsi flexor muscles.
If you run with a light, smooth and fluid stride you will avoid excessive vertical motion and remove additional impact and stress on your lower leg muscles. Use quick, efficient strides and visualize gliding smoothly over the ground. Your running will be low impact and you will not only avoid shin splints but will run faster with less effort.
Get Downhill Skills
Downhill running can be a major cause of shin splints if you aren’t careful with your running stride. Running downhill makes it very easy to over stride. When running downhill there is a tendency to reach out in front of your body with your foot and leg to arrest your downhill momentum That results in an over stride. You begin to land heavily on your heel creating a lot of impact and initiating the stress on your anterior shin muscles as they attempt to stop the downward slapping motion of your toes. Focus on building your downhill running skills. Land on the balls of your feet directly under your center of gravity and maintain the same quick efficient stride you use on flat or uphill terrain. Downhill running will no longer be a pain in the shin.