Shin Splints: Causes and Stretching Exercises to Repair

I have been speed walking, interspersed with a few minutes of jogging, for about six weeks. Last week I started full on jogging, interspersed with a few running spurts, and my shins are burning. Why does this happen? Am I doing something wrong, or am I just not meant to run?

An Answer from Dr. Sarah Brown who is a Fitness Expert

It sounds like you are suffering from a common running condition called shin splints. The pain is caused by an inflammation in the muscles along the shin. Shin splints are usually caused by repeated stress to the lower leg from activities like running. But don’t worry and don’t stop running, they are fixable.

There are two types of shin splints associated with different causes and types of pain.

Anterolateral shin splints cause pain up the front and side of your shins. The pain arises immediately after the heel strikes the ground. If you continue running the pain will get worse. This type of shin splint is often caused by a muscle imbalance. The front of your shin muscles are responsible for pulling the foot up, your calves are responsible for pulling the heel back down. Strong calves can exert so much force that they injure your shins. Another common cause for an anterolateral shin splint is training inworn out shoes,or having an unbalanced gait(the way your feet land).

Posteromedial shin splints cause a spreading pain, it starts along the inside of the lower leg above the ankle and gets worse if you rise up onto your toes. The pain can move forward affecting the ankle and can extend up to just below the knee. At first only the muscles are inflamed, if you continue your activity the tendons will be affected. The muscles in the back and inner part of your shin are responsible for lifting your heel just before your toes push off. This type of shin splint generally arises from activities such as running on banked tracks or crowned roads, they can also be caused by pronation- rolling towards the outside of your foot when you walk or run.

If you are experiencing either type of shin splints I recommend R.I.C.E. – rest, ice, compression and elevation – for a few days, until the pain stops. To eliminate shin splints you should also start practicing the stretching and strengthening exercises outlined below. If this is the first time you have experienced this type of pain, I recommend consulting with your health care provider.

It is very important to assess your footwear, if you are going to practice a sport like running. Make sure that you wear proper running shoes to support your feet and look for a rigid heel or a non-pronating shoes. Purchase your shoes at a running store where the staff is knowledgeable and the shoes are of high quality. The Running Room is a good option (don’t buy them at Zellers!). It is really important to ensure that the joints in your lower body are moving correctly, the best way to determine this is with a gait analysis. A gait analysis assess how your body moves and checks for any bio-mechanical errors that may be irritating your shins. It can be performed by a podiatrist or chiropractor.

Stretches:

Shin stretch

  • Stand with your hands on the back of a chair for support.
  • Place one foot directly behind you, top of the foot facing the floor.
  • Bend both knees until your feel a stretch through the top of the foot into the shins.
  • Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • Repeat other leg.

Calf stretch for gastrocnemius (large muscle at the top of your calf) and soleus (smaller muscle near the bottom.)

  • Stand with your hands on the back of a chair for support, feet under hips.
  • Step one foot back and lower your heel until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle ( gastrocnemius).
  • Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • Slowly bend your knees, keeping your heels on the ground, until your feel a stretch in the lower calf (soleus)
  • Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Bucket handle stretch

  • Wrap a towel (for cushioning) around the handle of an empty bucket.
  • Sit on your kitchen table (so your feet can’t touch the floor).
  • Put the bucket handle over the top of your foot. Slowly flex and point your foot 10 times
  • Repeat 2-3 times on each foot.
  • To add more resistance put water or potatoes in your bucket.

Toe raises

  • Stand with your hands on the back of a chair for support, feet under hips.
  • Slowly rise up onto the balls of your feet and then slowly lower your heels back down onto the floor.
  • Repeat 10 times, rest for one minute and repeat.
  • To add more resistance use weights in your hands or try one foot at a time.