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Working it Out: Stay Active and Avoid Nagging Shin
August 18, 2006
By: Maayan S. Heller for Knee1
If you’ve ever had shin splints you know just how bothersome they can be – and if you haven’t, you don’t really want to know. But shin splints are both preventable and treatable, so either way, there’s good news for everyone.
“They are more annoying than serious,” says Joel Schwab, M.D., Associate Professor and Director of Medical Education for Pediatrics at the University of Chicago. In fact, he says, there’s “no reason to see anyone for this unless it becomes very painful or you are unable to do things.”
“Shin splints” is the common term associated with medial tibial stress syndrome, a condition that causes some pain (often dull, throbbing or burning-like pain) and occasionally swelling in the front part of your lower leg (the shin). The pain is caused by swelling of the fibrous covering of the shin bone and the muscles associated with it.
“The discomfort is from weakness in the muscles that stabilize the foot and ankle joint,” says Pete McCall, CSCS, a fitness expert, consultant and master personal trainer. He adds that it can actually be attributed to weakness or inactivity in your hip muscles and ankles.
“We don’t ever really want to hypertrophy [enlarge, or overgrow] the muscle, but we need to keep it strong,” says McCall. “If ignored, it can cause an individual quite a bit of anguish.”
Shin splints are very common, especially in active young people. They’re initiated by overuse of certain muscles in the lower leg and calf or by repeated pounding, like when you’re running.
If overused, “the muscles become tight and do not allow for the proper range-of-motion that the foot must travel during walking or running,” explains McCall.
When the muscles are over-tightened they can pull on the lower leg bones, especially at the tendonous attachments of the muscles. That’s when shin splints set in.
But avoiding shin splints doesn’t mean eliminating – or even reducing – your level of activity. You can easily add stretches and exercises to your routine to help prevent, combat and manage this uncomfortable condition.
With an appropriate stretching and strengthening program, shin splints can easily be avoided.
Part of this regimen, says McCall, is “active stretching prior to a workout (like walking uphill on a treadmill) and static stretching (holding a stretch for 30-45 seconds) after the workout.”
The right strength moves are also necessary, as they will reinforce the hip muscles, “which will place less stress on the foot and ankle as they make contact with the ground,” he adds.
For strength, McCall says you should focus on building stability in the critical muscle groups. Lunges and one-leg balancing exercises are good ways to do this.
Muscle strength and balance have a lot to do with whether or not you suffer from shin splints. Work the right muscles, and you’ll easily be able to tackle this problem.
Having shin splints once, or repeated, doesn’t mean you have to suffer. If you follow an effective program, McCall says the likelihood of recurrence “is pretty low.”
And your footwear can also play a role.
While it depends on how often and how extensively you use them, running shoes and exercise shoes used in aerobics classes should probably be replaced about every six months. Shin splints can also be aggravated by dress shoes with a raised heel; if your heel is elevated from 9-5, your calf muscles are held in a shortened position all day, so they’ll need to be warmed up and stretched thoroughly before working out.
“Wearing flat dress shoes for walking to and from work will help minimize the issue,” explains McCall, and adds that contrary to popular belief, “wearing flip-flops is not necessarily bad, because it allows the foot to articulate in a very natural state of motion.”
If you are suffering from shin splints, treat the soreness as well as adjust your stretching and strengthening routine. A part of the cause of shin splints is the fact that the muscle tissue is inflamed and swollen.
“Ibuprofen, ice and rest will help,” recommends Dr. Schwab. Ice will help bring down the swelling and promote muscle healing.
But the key is really in stretching. McCall says that while many people stretch before exercising, most people neglect to stretch out after.
“You don’t need to alter your entire routine,” he advises, “but make sure to stretch on a regular basis, especially post exercise.”
| Work those Shin Splints out of your System!|
Get a proper warm-up: Here are some exercises you can do to reduce shin pain and build the muscles you need to increase your strength and generate and maintain the stability you need to avoid shin splints:
Hip Bridges: lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the ground in front of you (like you’re going to do a sit-up); thrust your hips up toward the ceiling, pushing through your feet, and squeezing your butt muscles, keeping your shoulders supported squarely on the floor; hold for a full count, then go back to starting position. Do 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions of the move.
Fire Hydrants: on your hands and knees, with wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips, lift your right leg out, keeping it bent at a 90-degree angle, until it is parallel to the floor, then bring it back down to the starting position; do the same with the left leg. Do 3 sets of 10-20 repetitions on each side to wear out the muscle– this is a bigger muscle, so you can do more reps to strengthen it.
Single-Leg Balance: balance on one leg and hold it for 30-40 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times, then switch legs and do the same.
Step-Up to Single-Leg Balance: use a small step or low bench; step up with one leg, lifting the other into a steady balance; hold for 30-40 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times, then switch legs and do the same.
Lunges: stand with both feet hip-width apart; step forward with one leg, bending at both knees so your front thigh is parallel to the ground, careful to keep your front knee and ankle in perfect alignment. Do three sets of 8-10 repetitions with each leg.
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