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My Shins Hurt When Using a Treadmill

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.

Sore shins often affect new runners or runners who take a lot of time off between trainings. A treadmill can aggravate shin pain due to the nature of running on a moving belt. While no single cure for shin pain works for every runner, several strategies can help prevent the pain from occurring in the first place, or ease it once it's set in.

Shin Splints

Shin splints are the name given to shin pain, felt at the tibia (the shin bone). You feel the radiating ache as you start to run or walk quickly on the treadmill, and the pain may ease as you get further into the workout. By the end of your treadmill session, the pain may come back with a vengeance or show up afterward, even the next day.

You can experience shin splints from any run, not just one on the treadmill. But, in many people, the treadmill tends to exacerbate their development.

A Downhill Feel

The moving belt of the treadmill makes your body feel as if it were running slightly downhill. When your front foot hits the belt, the treadmill pulls your heel and slams the forefoot down; when you're on the road, you have to initiate the action, which happens more slowly. Such quick foot contact requires anterior shin muscle strength. If you don't have that developed, a treadmill can cause you to feel pain and develop chronic shin splints.

Fix this problem by raising the incline by 2 to 3 percent. It might feel a little harder to run, but you'll get stronger and save your shins.

Read More: Nutrition for Shin Splints

New Runners

Treadmills are often a running terrain of choice among new runners, who are especially prone to shin splints. If you haven't built up your lower leg muscle strength, going "too far too soon" is a major culprit. The treadmill may not be entirely to blame; it's your training plan.

If you've been doing other workouts, your cardiovascular strength may be able to keep you running for a while, but your legs have other ideas. Ease into running gradually. Start with just two or three 1- to 3-mile sessions per week. Even make these a combination of running and walking to get your legs ready.

As you progress your running fitness, add just 10 percent each week to your total distance. So, if during all of week one, you cover 9 miles total on the treadmill, the next week only go about 0.9 to 1 mile farther, or 10 miles. You'll amp up your overall distance smartly and safely.

Shoe Choice

If you do the bulk of your running on the treadmill, you'll hold it responsible for your shin pain — but again, this may be misdirected. Your shoes have a lot to do with whether or not you develop shin splints.

Get fitted for shoes that match your running gait. Most running stores offer free gait analyses. If you tend to roll out (supinate) or roll in (pronate) excessively, you need a shoe or orthotic that helps correct the tendency. Unsupported, these exaggerated gaits can cause your foot to hit the treadmill belt in a way that irritates your shins.

Old shoes and shoes with more than 400 to 500 miles also tend to aggravate shin pain because they no longer offer the necessary support for your feet.

Recovering from Shin Pain

Rest is your No. 1 strategy to ease shin pain. Shin splints can become chronic and unbearable if you continue to push running despite the pain. Anti-inflammatories can help ease any immediate discomfort. Ice is also effective in reducing acute pain.

As you get back into running, consider wearing compression calf sleeves that encourage optimal circulation in your lower legs. Also, stretch your calves and ankles before and after each run to help ease tightness that can cause the treadmill shin pain.

Read More: Healing Time for Shin Splints

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