Diet & Exercise: Causes, prevention and treatment of shin splints

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, May 18, 2017

Now that warm weather’s here, more folks are outside, enjoying walking, running, tennis, basketball, racquetball, and hiking among other foot bearing activities. With all this, often comes that ole summertime malady shin splints, and if you’ve ever had them, you know how painful and aggravating they can be.

Shin splints are generally described as soreness that occurs in front of the lower leg. Although painful, a shin splint isn’t usually an actual injury, but rather a “syndrome” or condition. 

So what is a shin splint anyway? Shin splints (Tibial Stress Syndrome) occur when one of several muscles (usually the anterior tibialis) that attach to the shin bone is overworked, and pulls on the two lower leg bones, the tibula (shin bone) and the fibula.

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Shin splints are usually caused one of two ways. First is overexertion, like running or walking on hard surfaces, exercising too quickly after a long winter’s lay off, poor shoe quality or running on uneven ground.

The second cause of shin splints is referred to as “biomechanical” and can be a bit more complicated to diagnose. These causes have more to do with the individual.

Everyone walks and runs differently. Some have a short gait (stride), while others have long. Most everyone, while walking or running, touches their outside heel first, with their foot rotating inward to support them. Simply put, some feet turn inward just enough (normal pronation), but some turn in too much (over pronation), and some feet don’t turn in enough (under pronation).

Other biomechanical causes of shin splints can be flat feet, walking or running with toes pointed outward (duck feet), or toes pointed inward (pigeon toed).

By the way, as a track and sprint coach I can tell you, the fastest runners, (sprinters) are pigeon toed.

Now that we know some of the causes of shin splints, let’s go over some ways to prevent them, and treatments.

Obviously prevention should be your main goal. First, if you have any physiological condition with regard to your feet, visit your podiatrist. Make sure you have good footwear. Remember, with shoes, you get what you pay for.

Next, strengthen your leg muscles, but start slowly. One exercise I recommend is to sit in a chair with your leg out straight.  Point toes away from you, and hold for a few seconds, then pull toes toward you and hold, then repeat. Do each leg, one at a time.

Also, stretch your tendons. Tendons hold muscles to bones, and tendons are much like leather in two ways. First, the more supple tendons are, the stronger they can hold. Secondly, you can’t condition tendons or leather in one sitting. You need to do it (stretch) day after day. For treatment of shin splints I recommend icing then 15 minutes at a time, several times a day, elevation and rest. Wrapping your shins will also help. There are shin splint braces out there, but I’ve found that a 4-7 inch wide Ace bandage works well.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years.