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If you run regularly, be it during a daily jog, in a sport, or just to catch the bus, it’s likely that you have experienced shin splints. The pain in your shin may seem inevitable, and you may have resorted to treating the pain, but there are ways to prevent it. Here’s how to prevent shin splints, plus some ways to help the pain in case you’re already suffering.
A shin splint is basically an aching pain in the front of the lower leg, also called medial tibial stress syndrome. It’s caused by muscle fatigue: overused tendons get swollen and irritated by the increased use and they scream out in pain (figuratively – you won’t hear them scream, you’ll just feel like you want to scream). While shin splints from overuse is very common, there are a few other causes of shin pain, like stress fractures in the lower leg bones, or flat feet pulling on the tendons, that a doctor can help you to diagnose.
If you currently have shin splints, the usual recommendation is to rest so your muscles can heal. You can take an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen, but as anti-inflammatories can have side effects like an increased risk of ulcers, this should only be an occasional solution, not an everyday post-workout ritual. You can also apply ice to the area for 20 to 30 minutes at a time a couple of times a day until the pain goes away.
To prevent future shin splints, Fitmodo (Gizmodo’s buff weekly spin-off), has shared a simple exercise to strength the muscles in front of your shin to prevent this type of injury. You’ll need a step, some stairs, a curb, or a footstool; anything that you will be able to stand on and dip your toes down below the rest of your foot. Simply stand on the step facing as if you were going down the stairs (or off the curb) and stand with your legs straight and just your heel on the step (the rest of your foot should be hanging off the end of the step). You can hold onto a wall or railing for balance. As for the exercise itself, just dip your toes down as far as you can, then lift them up as far as you can. Do them as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Then bend your knees and do the same toe moves for another 30 seconds. Do three repetitions of the exercise in each position, with a little break in between.
If strengthening the muscles doesn’t do the trick, you may want to invest in a neoprene sleeve to keep your leg warm and support the muscles. If you have flat feet, they could be the culprit. Flat feet may pull on tendons are you run, which irritates them. A good arch support will help. The way you run (specifically running heel-toe) could contribute to the pain, so talk to a professional about your running technique. Every person is different, so there may not be one magical cure for shin splints, though the author of the Fitmodo article has found that everyone he has spoken to about shin splints has benefited from that exercise. If any of these solutions are causing you more pain, stop doing them and talk to your doctor, who may be able to suggest other exercises or physical therapy.