If you’ve ever had the dreaded ‘shin splints’ then you know they’re horrible. That feeling of a dull, painful burning in your lower leg can absolutely stop you in your tracks. The technical term for them is medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), and it’s basically an inflammation of the muscles and tendons that connect to the tibia. This article looks at three really simple ways that you can prevent shin splints and keep yourself happy, healthy and injury free.
TIP 1: Softer Surface Running
As a new runner, one of the biggest mistakes I made was doing way too much running on hard surfaces like roads. It made sense at the time, the roads were well lit, well signposted and well looked after. Plus everyone else seemed to be doing the same thing all the time so why shouldn’t I?
Well, with retrospect the reason I shouldn’t is that excessive hard surface running is a huge contributing factor to issues such as shin splints, not to mention knee issues, hip issues, and plantar fasciitis. If you want to reduce the likelihood of developing shin splits try to mix up your weekly running with some softer surface training. For example, you could run around your local park, head out into the countryside, find a trial route or even do some running on the beach if its an option for you. Whichever you choose, they’re all great ways of getting extra training in without putting quite so much stress on your shins.
TIP 2: Stretch Your Calves and Strengthen Your Anterior Tibialis
Most people tend to have pretty tight calves; runners tend to have calves so tight that they resemble finely tuned guitar strings! This is a problem because muscular imbalances such as tight calves are another contributing factor to shin splits. If you want to reduce the likelihood of shin splits, start stretching your calves each day. Just one or two simple stretches for thirty to forty-five seconds should do the trick.
Now, muscles tend to work in pairs, and you’ll often find that when one muscle in a pair of super tight (your calves) the other muscle in the pair tends to be pretty weak and inactive. This is exactly the case with your anterior tibialis, one of the muscles on the front of your lower leg. You can strengthen this muscle using a few dorsiflexion exercises, which is a fancy way of saying trying to raise your toes up towards your shins.
Try standing against a wall with your weight on your heels and raising your toes towards your shins ten to fifteen times. Three sets of this three times a week should make a huge difference to the muscle balance in your lower leg and reduce the likelihood of shin splints.
TIP 3: Do Not Increase Your Mileage Too Quickly
Most episodes of shin splints occur due to the improper planning of your running program. For most people, this means trying to run too many miles too quickly without allowing for enough rest and recovery.
Let’s use a quick example. Our fictional runner, Alice, is currently able to run about 5k. She runs twice per week and each run tends to be between 3 and 5k.
Alice’s friend is entering a marathon in London in three months and wants to know if Alice will do it with her. Alice, wanting to support her friend, agrees. Next week Alice decides that she needs to be fitter, so she goes running three times and runs 4-6k each time. This might not seem like a massive increase but Alice’s weekly running total just jumped from an average of 8km per week up to 15km per week, almost DOUBLE what she was running the week before.
Alice is now much more likely to develop shin splints and other overuse injuries. The moral of the story here is don’t be Alice, make sure that you know how far you’re running each week and only increase by a small amount. This will help to keep you safe and injury free.
Some professional runners can deal with being in pain cave mode to achieve a goal, but for the rest running with any pain is not advised!
To help you with this I’ve put together a free guide on how to increase the distance you run without getting injured, which you can read by clicking here (yep, you’re welcome).
To sum up, I hope that’s given you a few quick tips that you can start using right away to prevent yourself getting the dreaded shin splints.
Enjoy your running!