Q: I'm prone to shin splits. How can I prevent them?
A: “Many people who are just starting an exercise program or are returning to exercise after time off are prone to shin splints,” says Laura O’Reilly, RN, CPT, author of Get Fit to Go. Usually characterized by micro tears of the tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior shin muscles, shin splints can be caused by a variety of things, including tight calf muscles. “A runner’s stretch can help keep the calf muscles flexible,” says O’Reilly. “When the muscles on the back of the legs are flexible, there is less stress on the front of the legs.” Do this stretch at least once a day and after every run.
- Lean against a wall or stable surface with arms extended shoulder-width apart.
- Step one leg forward, bending at the knee.
- Keep the rear leg straight and the heel on the floor
- With a straight back, lean forward until you feel a stretch in the rear calf.
- Hold the stretch until you feel the muscle loosen—do not bounce.
- Switch legs and repeat.
If you still don’t feel the stretch you may want to elevate the toe of the back leg by placing a dumbbell under the front of the foot while keeping the heel on the ground, says O’Reilly. And if you do develop shin splints, don’t ignore the pain. Sports medicine therapy and RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) are recommended as initial treatments. If pain lasts more than a few days, call your doctor. Sometimes people mistake muscle or tendon damage, or stress fractures with shin splints, says O’Reilly, which can lead to more serious injuries.
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