Prevent Shin Splints
Kiss pain goodbye
Your shins have to bear up to 6 times your weight while you exercise, so foot-pounding activities like walking and running can cause problems for the muscles and surrounding tissues and create inflammation. The strain and leg pain results from strong calves pulling repeatedly on weaker muscles near the shin. “Walkers who walk too much too soon, or too fast too soon, or who go up a lot of hills are susceptible to this injury because the foot has to flex more with each step, which overworks the shin muscles,” explains Frank Kelly, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Macon, GA, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Shin splints may be achingly common for avid walkers, but they don’t have to be. All you need to do to prevent shin splints and skirt the burn is baby your shins with these four simple steps.
Proceed with caution
Take care to increase only one aspect of your workout routine (speed, frequency, or duration) at a time to avoid injury and prevent shin splints.
Tight calf muscles can be painful in and of themselves, but they can also place undue stress on your shins, notes Jeffrey L. Young, MD, attending physician in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
To keep your calves supple and to sidestep shin splints, stand on a step facing a staircase. Let the back half of your right foot hang over the step’s edge, but keep your right knee straight. (Your left foot should be entirely on the step.) Next, bend your left knee, and slowly let your right heel drop until you feel your calf stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat three or four times. Switch legs, and stretch the other calf. Then repeat the sequence, slightly bending the knee of the leg you’re stretching.
Move your hips
Strong hips that swivel fluidly can do more than help you excel at dance class. They can prevent you from overpronating (rolling your feet inward as you push off the ground), a walking style that can result in shin pain. To strengthen your hips, Young recommends sweating through a few sets of side-lying leg lifts, three or four times a week. Here’s the how-to.
Lie on your right side with your right arm bent and supporting your head and your left hand flat on the floor in front of you for balance. Flex your right knee so that it’s bent on the floor in front of you for further support. This is the starting position. Next, keeping your left leg straight with your toes pointing down, lift your leg five times. Repeat five times with your toes pointing up (to work your hip from different angles). That’s one set. Reverse your position, and repeat the set with your right leg. As your strength and fitness improve, strap on light ankle weights for added resistance.
Get regular rubdowns
Regular deep-tissue massages will keep the muscles in your lower legs loose and less prone to injury. Find a certified massage therapist in your area, and ask her to teach you how to give yourself freebies in between professional sessions. If you already have shin splints, be sure to rest your legs: Stick with gentle swimming, for instance, for a week. Ice and stretch them every day until you get back on your feet. See your doc if pain persists for more than 2 weeks.