9 Ways to Combat Shin Splints
Before you kick off the spring running season, make sure your body is fully prepared to log the miles injury-free. These tips will help you avoid dreaded lower-leg pain.
PREVENT SHIN SPLINTS
Instead of running too much too soon (a main cause of shin splints) increase your speed and distance gradually. Avoid the 5-mile itch. “If you’re a new runner, you’re not going to suddenly run 5 miles,” says Keith Jeffers, D.C., C.C.S.P. “You need a break-in period. Start with 20 minutes of a walking-running combo every other day.” When it comes to building intensity and duration, 10 is the magic number. Increase you walking distance 10% each week while simultaneously amping up your run to walk ratio by 10%, says Jeffers.
The impact of running can shock your system, so supplement miles logged with exercises that are less jarring on the joints, like cycling, rowing, and swimming. “Do cross training instead of running every day with a 3+2 program,” says Bill Pierce, Professor and Chair of the Health Sciences department and lead author of Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster. “Three runs and two cross training sessions gives you five cardiovascular workouts a week.”
Fight the tendency to heel strike or pull a tippy–toed Fred Flintstone dash. Hitting heel first causes overstriding and leads the foot to slap down onto the pavement, stretching the shin muscles and forcing them to work harder to slow down. And running on your toes stresses the calf muscles in the back of the leg. Avoid injury and strain with a flat, mid-foot landing, says Jeffers. A correct gait is essential to injury prevention. Aim to control your landing with shorter strides and, for most runners, Jeffers suggests a stability shoe.
Keep A Short Stride
You may be pulling for that finish line, but make it a habit to watch your stride length—especially at the end of a taxing workout. While biomechanics and varying leg length make it impossible to prescribe an exact distance, shorter is always better. “When you’re getting back into the sport, spend the first two weeks purposely staying with a relatively short stride to reduce the liability of shin splints,” says Jeff Galloway, an Olympian who has coached over one million runners to their goals. Practice with a cadence drill once a week every week. Count your cadence—how many times you turn over—on one foot for 30 seconds. Then, take a 30-second break. Repeat for 4-8 sets, aiming to add an additional count each time. “Research shows that as runners become faster their stride shortens, so the key to boost mechanical efficiency is to increase turnover rate,” says Galloway. Keep in mind there is no magic number. A prescribed turnover rate might drive some individuals to failure and not be enough for others.
Use A Supportive Shoe
Minimalism may be all the rage, but that doesn’t mean that going barefoot is for you. In fact, it may be causing your shin splints. “Minimalist shoes don’t have arch support, so the foot is rolling and overpronating, making athletic overuse injuries more common,” says Jeffers. Instead, choose a shoe with solid support. Think: motion control or stability shoe, or a good neutral shoe without excessive cushioning. When it comes to shopping around for the right fit, an experienced observer at a running store is your best ally.