6 Simple Exercises to Prevent Shin Splints
Last Updated: May 18, 2015
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Woman holding sore muscle on leg
Athletes train to build up strength for optimal performance and resilience, but we aren’t immune to injury. The good news, however, is that there are exercises you can add to your routine to help prevent some of those injuries, especially ones due to repetitive use like shin splints. Some of these preventative moves are so simple that incorporating them into your daily routine will only take a few extra minutes and can be done upon waking or while sitting at your desk. The following slides explain just what shin splints are and show you the exercises that can treat or even prevent them.
WHAT ARE SHIN SPLINTS?
Shin splints are a common injury that can sideline even the most experienced athlete. The key to preventing -- or recovering from -- them is to understand what they are. Defined by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons as “pain along the inner edge of the shinbone,” shin splints are very treatable and very preventable. In the following slides master trainer Erin Truslow, a USA Cycling and USA Triathlon Coach who founded Big Pistachio Coaching and Training in Austin, Texas, not only shares ways to prevent shin splints, but she also provides exercises that can be done whenever you find yourself with shin pain.
Related: 3 Foam-Rolling Mistakes You Might Be Making
Woman holding sore muscle on leg
PREVENTING SHIN SPLINTS
Master trainer Erin Truslow has six simple tips to help runners and athletes prevent shin splints. First, she recommends those with running programs increase their miles slowly and gradually. This includes giving yourself enough rest between long runs. Second, she suggests mixing up the surface you run on -- switching between concrete, asphalt, trail, track, treadmill and grass. Once you vary where you run, you’ll also need to switch up your other workouts. Cross-training in the gym is key to building strength in your legs without overdoing calf exercises, she says. Her fourth piece of advice is to watch your foot strike. “Heel striking can be detrimental to your body as it is jarring and very impacting on the bones and joints,” she says. “A mid-foot strike is preferred for a more efficient run.” And it’s important to have properly fitted shoes, especially if you are a new runner. Lastly, Erin recommends you stretch and roll your muscles before and after a run. All of these tips support her philosophy that “a little self-care goes a long way.”
Related: Running Techniques & Shin Splints
Sometimes you may feel the first sign of shin splints in the calves. “Running can cause tight calves, which in turn pull on the anterior tibias, or the shins,” says master trainer Erin Truslow. To help prevent and remedy shin splints, she recommends calf stretches to help loosen up those muscles. HOW TO DO IT: Stand close to a wall, curb or step. With the heel down, raise the toes up the wall or curb to a 45-degree angle or greater. Keep your leg straight, but with a soft bend in the knee. Additionally, you can add or remove pressure by leaning forward or back slightly. If you’re on a curb, hang your heel off the edge, letting your body weight assist with the stretch.
Related: The 8 Best Stretches to Do Before Running
Taking it back to grade school and remembering your ABCs is a quick way to help stretch out your legs. This can be done preventatively or as shin splints develop. Master trainer Erin Truslow suggests doing it in the morning. “This gets the circulation going, keeps the ankle flexible and stretches out the peroneus -- the muscle on the side of your calf that attaches down by the ankle.” HOW TO DO IT: To do this simple move, you can sit or stand and write the alphabet out with your foot. Try to only use your foot and ankle, not your entire lower leg. Once you get through the entire alphabet, repeat with the opposite foot.
Related: 5 Mistakes Runners Make When Training for a Race
To help keep shin splints at bay, master trainer Erin Truslow advises that you add resistance-band wipers to your routine. “These primarily work the peroneal muscles and help build strength in the lower leg,” she says. HOW TO DO THEM: Place a resistance band around both feet. Then, using one foot as an anchor, rotate the other from side to side like a windshield wiper. Truslow suggests doing this 20 times on one foot before switching to the other.
Related: 9 Moves You Can Do Every Day for Better Joint Mobility
Calf tightness leads to changes in your running gait that can not only cause shin splints, but also lead to plantar fasciitis. This is why master trainer Erin Truslow stresses the importance of a quality foam-rolling session after long runs. “You should do a total-leg rolling session one to three times per week, as long as it is not creating more soreness,” she says. By rolling out your legs, you will help release the muscles and fascia around the calf. To properly roll out, invest in a grid or foam roller. HOW TO DO IT: Kneel on the roller and gently roll two inches down the anterior tibialis muscle (front of the shin) and one inch up, doing this all the way from the lower knee to the ankle.
Related: 5 Foam-Rolling Exercises to Relieve Sore Muscles
BLOCK AND BALL
Much like foam rolling, using a block and ball also helps release tight muscles and fascia to help prevent shin splints. “The harder the ball, the deeper you can get into the belly of the muscle,” says master trainer Erin Truslow. “Be sure to take some deep breaths during this intense exercise.” HOW TO DO IT: Use a Trigger Point therapy ball, lacrosse ball or tennis ball placed on a yoga block. Roll out the calf muscle from the ankle up to your knee. Use the same “two inches up, one inch down” method as with the foam roller. Be sure to breathe deeply when you reach any sore spots.
Related: Top 10 Moves to Help You Recover From Your Workout
Yoga toes are another simple move that can be done in addition to rolling out your muscles with a foam roller or the ball-and-block method. The purpose of this move, master trainer Erin Truslow explains, is to help strengthen the small muscles in the feet and keep them healthy. By working these muscles, you’re increasing your balance and strength in your feet, which directly affects your ankles, calves and shins. HOW TO DO IT: Stand barefoot on the floor. Then simply spread your toes out as wide as possible before relaxing them. Repeat 10 times.
Related: 12 Powerful Yoga Poses for Every Athlete
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you suffered from shin splints before? What did you do during your recovery time? Share your recovery tips with fellow readers. Do you do any of the preventative exercises, such as rolling out your muscles? What is your favorite foam-rolling technique? Will (or have) you tried any of these? Did they help? Let us know in the comments section below!
Related: 12 Easy, Anytime Moves to Strengthen Your Feet and Ankles
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