Take steps to avoid shin splints
With the Lake Tahoe Marathon coming up next weekend, I thought we should explore an injury that most runners are prone to – shin splints. Fortunately, I’ve never suffered from this painful, sometimes debilitating injury. Then again, I’m not a runner; I prefer to skip. It’s a little easier and much more fun.
If you enjoy running or jogging, pay attention because a few preventive measures and the following treatments will help you cross the finish line.
Shin splints refer to a condition called Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). MTSS can be detected by the aching (sometimes sharp) pain either in the front (most common) or the back of the lower leg during and after exercise.
Shin splints can be caused by a variety of physical activities, but are most common with sports that involve the sudden shock force of repeated landings and change of direction. The pain is a result of fatigue and trauma to the tendons.
The following factors will increase your chance of developing shin splints so try eliminating most, as prevention is the key to success when dealing with this type of injury:
Excessive uphill or downhill running;
Exercising on hard surfaces, like concrete;
Exercising on uneven ground;
Beginning an exercise program after a long lay-off period;
Increasing exercise intensity or duration too quickly;
Exercising in worn out or ill-fitting shoes.
Another factor that often contributes to MTSS is flat feet, which will cause over-pronation of the foot. Pronation occurs just after the heel strikes, the foot flattens out, and then continues to roll inward. If you have flat feet, see a podiatrist because this condition is responsible for myriad other problems, even in non-athletes.
I tell my clients who suffer from shin splints to stretch after warming up for a few minutes and to stretch again after their run.
My favorite is a standing calf stretch: Place your foot (toes facing toward the sky) on a wall, rock, or any stable surface; slowly bring your straight leg closer toward the wall. To get this stretch lower on the calf you can gently bend the leg at the knee. You can perform a standing shin stretch by extending the top of your foot downward as if you were trying to touch your shoe laces to the floor.
Rick Alexander, owner of Emerald Bay Physical Therapy, suggests these tips: The best way to avoid shin splints is to prevent them before they start. Performing warm-up and stretching exercises and keeping your workouts fairly consistent will reduce incidence of this problem. Keeping your running shoes light, running on soft surfaces and taking shorter strides when running downhill also can decrease occurrence.
The most important muscles to stretch are the two muscle groups in the calf. Gastrocnemius (largest calf muscle) is the classic calf stretch in a semi-lunge position with the back heel down and the same knee straight. The soleus is stretched in a similar stance, with the heel down in back, and with the right knee slightly bent.
Some people benefit from stretching the tibialis anterior (front shin muscle). This stretch is easiest to do sitting with your right leg crossed on top of the left, pulling your forefoot down from the ankle toward the little toe side. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
Treatment includes rest, ice, soft tissue mobilization and stretching. Running should be avoided until symptoms subside. If your pain does not subside with rest, ice and stretching, you should get checked by a doctor or therapist to rule out a stress fracture of your tibia.
If you would like to experience the ultimate stretches, my Reformer equipment will take you to the next level. If you are participating in the marathon, give me a call and I’ll give you a free demo.
Rhonda Beckham is owner of Help Me Rhonda and Perfect Pilates, a Pilates instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College and Sierra Athletic Club, as well as a personal trainer operating out of Sierra Athletic Club and the Tahoe Keys Marina Fitness Studio. She may be reached at (530) 208-6369, on the Web at http://www.TahoeTrainer.com and by e-mail at rhonda@TahoeTrainer.com
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