Shin splints, a.k.a., that throbbing pain running down the tibia, or that large bone, in front of your lower legs opposite your calves. A common injury in runners, dancers or boot camp participants, shin splints can be debilitating and set you back for a week or even longer. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent them.
Shin splints typically occur when a person over-flexes the foot for prolonged periods of time, including walking up steep inclines.
Exercises that strengthen the tibialis anterior muscle — the largest muscle in the front of the lower leg — can help prevent the problem, as do proper warm ups and stretches to increase blood flow.
Here are 10 measures to take in order to prevent shin splints.
1. Trace The Alphabet With Your Foot
Slowly “writing” out each letter of the alphabet with your foot warms up the lower leg muscles and extends and flexes the ankle, moving it through every range of motion possible. Imagine that you’re holding a pen between your toes, and trace the capital letters in the air. Keep your toes pointed and flexed for best results.
2. Marching Warm Up
Before you begin a steep hike or run on an incline, warm up by jogging on a flat surface, or marching in place. Most shin splints can be avoided with a proper warm up.
3. Toe Raises (A Variety Of Ways)
Starting from a standing position with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Then slowly rise up on your toes, and lower back down to your heels.
Now, change your foot position so your heels are together and toes are pointed slightly outwards, and do the same thing; raise up and down.
Next, angle your big toes so that they’re touching, and spread your heels far apart; again rise and lower.
Repeat each exercise 10 times. To make this more difficult, do the exercises on a step, and lower slightly below the step during each rep.
4. Heel Drop
Stand at the edge of a step, carefully balanced on your toes, then step back with your left leg and slowly lower your right heel to the ground. Perform both directions 10 to 15 times.
5. One-Leg Bridge
Lie on your back, with your knees bent (pointing to the ceiling). Begin to do a bridge by squeezing your gluets and lifting your hips up. While holding this position, extend one leg and hold for 30-60 seconds, then lower. Repeat with the other leg, for a total of 10-15 repetitions.
6. Strengthen With A Band
Strengthen your muscles by sitting down on the ground, legs out straight in front of you. Place a resistance band around the front of your foot close to the toes, with the loose ends facing away from you. Tie the loose ends of the band to the leg or a table (or other stable object). Take up any slack in the resistance band that may be present between your foot and the stationary object. Now, pull your toes and ball of the foot (by flexing the ankle) toward your body, using the resistance of the object. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds, and repeat 20 to 30 times.
7. Sit And Stretch
This one helps relieve shin splints, as well as prevent them. Place your right leg straight out in front of you, and the injured leg curled behind you so that your foot is nearly touching your butt. Holding your left shin with your left hand and hold your right toes with your right hand (if you can reach). Then, gently lean your body into your right leg, while gently pulling your left leg back. For a deeper stretch, position the leg behind you at a diagonal. Use your body weight and the angle of your leg to ease up or deepen the stretch. Repeat 5 to 10 times, holding each for 30 to 60 seconds.
8. Calf Stretch
Place one foot in front of the other, place your hands on a wall and lean forward as you keep the heel of your back foot on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat on the opposite side.
9. Toe Curls
Stand with feet hip-width apart at the edge of a towel. Gather the towel with the toes of one foot, and slowly pull it toward you. Return to start and repeat with the other foot.
10. Do The Monster Walk
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, place a resistance band around your thighs and step diagonally forward and to the right. Then bring your left leg to meet your right, and step diagonally toward the left. After 10-16 steps, walk in the same manner, backward.
If you’re suffering from severe shin splints, ice the shins for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours. If shin splints are a common occurrence, and consider custom orthotics, a neoprene sleeve to support your leg, physical therapy and other interventions. Once you’ve healed, increase the activity that led to the shin splints very gradually. The last thing you want to do is exacerbate the issue.
Since shin splints tends to be a catch-all phrase for lower leg discomfort that can be caused by a variety of problems — including irritated muscles, stress fractures (tiny breaks in the tibia), flat feet (overpronation) or weakness in the hips or core muscles — so consult a doctor if you’re suffering from chronic pain.