Cardio • 02.07.2016 • Sascha Wingenfeld

Got Shin Splints? We Have the Cure

You want to get off to a flying start and hit the road full of energy and motivation. But right from the start you feel pain running up the inside of your lower leg. Most of the time, the pain goes away while you are running. But frequently the pain lasts for several days and makes it difficult to keep training. “These symptoms are a sign of medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), or what is known as shin splints. Nearly a quarter of all interruptions in training can be traced back to this overloading syndrome. The pain usually builds up for weeks and in severe cases, can make running virtually impossible,” explains running expert and coach Sascha Wingenfeld.

A man who is touching his stretched shin.

Where does the pain come from?
Your leg hurts where your calf muscles connect to your shinbone (or, in technical terms, at the insertion point where the tibialis posterior and soleus muscles attach to the shinbone via the periosteum, or outer surface of the bone). These muscles are responsible for maintaining proper tension in the arch of the foot and are therefore essential for running. If they become irritated and overworked, the muscle cells can harden, causing radiating pain in your lower leg. And this is what makes it so difficult to describe and pinpoint the source of lower leg pain.

Take immediate action
“Once you start to feel pain, you need to act fast. If you ignore the problem, it will just get worse and it can limit or even stop your running training for months. This kind of overuse injury is often the result of a combination of different factors in your training program and running technique,” says Sascha. The following tips can help you identify the source of the problem and get you running injury free again:

      • Give your body a break
        Pain is a sign that your body needs rest. Short and very easy runs are okay if the pain is not too bad, but in the case of severe pain, the only thing that can help is to stop running for a few days. You must give the affected muscles time to recover.
      • Use your break for something new
        Just because you are forced to interrupt your running training doesn’t mean you have to give up on exercise completely. You can keep yourself in shape with other low-impact sports. Swimming, aqua jogging, cycling or inline skating offer a welcome change of pace and are perfect for building up stamina.
      • Focus on your running technique
        Shin splints usually affect inexperienced runners or those with flaws in their running technique. If your foot maintains ground contact too long under the full weight of your body or if your foot lands too far in front of your body (overstriding), this can lead to excessive overloading of your foot and lower leg. Specific running drills can correct these form errors.
      • Work on strengthening your feet
        Runners who lack foot stability tend to be affected by shin splints. Overpronation (excessive inward roll of your foot after landing) puts tremendous stress on the muscles of your feet. “A specific exercise program designed to relieve and strengthen your foot muscles might be helpful here,” advises the expert. Also, when choosing a running shoe, make sure to pick one with the right support for your foot to compensate for any potential weak spots.
      • Take care of your body
        After the pain subsides, calf and foot stretching and strengthening exercises can help you remain pain free. You should perform these before and after your run. These help to warm up the muscles that keep your foot stable when you run. Running barefoot is also a good way to improve foot strength.

The following three exercises help prevent shin splints
These exercises not only strengthen your foot muscles, but they also keep shin splints from happening in the first place.

1. Heel-to-toe raise: 3×30 repetitions per day

Instructions:
Rock back on your heels and pull your toes up. Bend your knees and roll forward up onto the tips of your toes. Focus on a smooth transition from heel to toe.

Man starts doing the heel-to-toe raise.

Man ends doing the heel-to-toe raise.

Benefits:
Stretching and strengthening of the foot and shinbone muscles.

2. Foot rolling: about 2-3 minutes per day

Instructions:
Raise your heel and rest your forefoot and toes on the ball in a relaxed position. Try to slowly stretch your joints as you roll the ball of your foot from left to right starting from your big toe.

A man is starting with the foot rolling.

Instructions: Slowly roll the sole of your foot down the ball and increase the pressure on sensitive spots for about 60 seconds.

A man is ending the foot rolling.

Benefits:
Reduction of overall tension in your foot muscles.

3. Foot and lower leg strengthening: 3×30 repetitions per day

Instructions:
Wrap a resistance band around your forefoot and push your ankle down as far as you can. Make sure to extend your foot all the way through your big toe and try to get as much power out of your foot muscles as possible.    

Sarting position for foot and lower leg strengthening

End position for foot and lower leg strengthening

Benefits:
Strengthen your foot and shinbone muscles.

Rethink your training (and cut back)
The pain described above is usually caused by increasing your running intensity and volume too quickly. Make sure to give yourself plenty of recovery time after longer runs, so your muscles can adapt to the higher demands. Give your body time to increase its performance.

Change your route
The greatest impact on your body comes from running downhill. Without proper form, the foot tends to land too far in front of the knee (overstriding), which puts a lot of strain on your muscles. This is why you should choose a level surface to run on when your shin splints are particularly bad.

Start slowly and carefully
Only when you can run again completely pain free, should you start training systematically again. You should probably rethink your workouts in terms of content and volume and maybe even get an expert to plan and organize your running sessions. If you continue to supplement your running with a combination of stretching, conditioning and coordination exercises, the risk of injury or reinjury will be low.

***

Sascha Wingenfeld

Sascha, health trainer & active triathlete, has been coaching runners from beginners to professionals for over 10 years. “I love my job and I love running.”


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