Top Ten Tips on How to Beat Shin Splints
By Rick Morris
Shin splints has become a dreaded phrase among distance runners. That pain that may range from a dull ache to a sharp pain on the front or side of your lower leg has reached epidemic proportions in the distance running community. Shin splits is actually a rather generic term for a number of chronic injuries to your lower leg. While shin splints can be chronic and debilitating, there is hope. With some minor adjustments and a few simple exercises, you can beat the shin splint bug. Here are our top ten tips on how to beat shin splints.
Easy Does It
This is one of the most obvious ways to beat shin splints. Sometimes your lower leg muscles send you a strong message that you are doing too much. Making increases in mileage at too fast a rate can place excessive stress on your lower leg muscles, resulting in shin splints. A rule of thumb is to increase your mileage no more than 10% at a time. That won’t hold true for every runner but it is a good starting point.
Heel striking is one of the primary causes of shin splints because it ends up placing excessive stress on the muscles that support the arch of your foot. Focus on developing a proper and efficient foot plant in which you land either flat footed or very slightly on the ball of your foot. This is one of the primary ways to beat shin splints.
Many distance runners tend to over stride. They take excessively long steps and land heavily on their heel, in front of their center of gravity. That also places way too much stress on the muscles that support your arch and prevent excessive pronation. Keep your stride short and efficient with a foot plant directly under your center of gravity.
Quick and Light
Shin splints are basically caused by placing more stress on your lower leg muscles, the ones that stabilize your foot, than they are able to handle. One obvious cure is to decrease that stress. A good way to do that is to run with very quick and light strides. Those lightning fast and feather light steps will decrease the load on your lower leg muscles and help you beat shin splints.
Be a Softy
Running consistently on hard concrete or asphalt surfaces also increases the load on your lower leg muscles. Give those overworked muscles a break by doing some, if not most of your running on softer natural, dirt or grass trails.
If you want to beat shin splints you will need to focus on proper running mechanics when running downhill. Athletes that do a lot of downhill running are especially prone to shin splints because they tend to over stride and land heavily on their heels when running downhill. When you hit those downhill sections of your route, focus on maintain your shorter, quicker strides with a foot plant under your center of gravity. Avoid the instinct to reach out in front of your body with large strides to slow your downhill momentum. Just let the hill carry you with your normal efficient stride with a foot plant under your center of gravity. When you hit those really steep sections it will be nearly impossible to avoid some heel striking, but even then try to keep your steps light and quick.
Stronger lower leg muscles are more resistant to shin splint injuries. You can strengthen those lower leg muscles by exercising your foot through all ranges of motion using exercise bands or by doing the alphabet drill.
Grin and Bare It
A really fun and efficient way to strengthen your lower leg muscles is to run barefoot. Many running shoes are over supportive. They don’t allow the muscles that control your foot to work the way they are intended. It is much like putting a cast your foot. As a result your lower leg muscles get weaker. Running barefoot allows those muscle to get back to work and get stronger. You don’t necessarily need to become a barefoot runner. Simply performing some barefoot strides on a soft surface, such as the infield of your area track, will do a great job of strengthen those lower leg muscles.
Sometimes we suffer from attention deficit. We don’t pay attention to what our body is doing. The next time you run, pay close attention to the position of your feet and how your feet react when they strike the ground. Keeping your feet straight with your toes straight ahead will help avoid over pronation and shin splints. Also monitor how much your feet pronate during your foot plant. If you feel they are over pronating make a conscious effort to keep your foot in a more supinated position. That will not only help you avoid shin splints but will also do a good job of strengthening those muscles than support your arch and control over pronation.
Stop the Bleeding
Sometimes the most important step to take in response to an injury is to stop the bleeding. If you continue to suffer from chronic shin splints consider some custom orthotics to control over pronation. The downside is your lower leg muscles will not get stronger and may even become weaker. The upside – you might be able to heal your injury and then take steps to strengthen those weak lower leg muscles and improve your running mechanics.