How to Avoid Shin Splints When Running on a Treadmill

Shin splints can cause debilitating pain along the front area of your lower legs. You may feel the pain when running or even while walking and you may experience mild swelling. Although shin splints usually afflict those who go too far too fast, they can be a chronic problem for many a runner. If you usually run on concrete or pavement, the cushier belt of a treadmill may offer some relief from shin splints, but it isn't a cure-all. Certain precautions and strategies can minimize your risk of developing shin splints.

Close up of women running on treadmills at the gym. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Get fitted for the right shoes. Head to a running specialty store and have a gait analysis performed. Usually stores offer these at no cost. Purchase shoes that are appropriate for your foot strike and are the proper size. Shop later in the day to account for foot swelling. Never wear old and worn out shoes while running.

Step 2

Ramp up the number of miles you cover gradually. If you are new to running, hit the treadmill just a couple times per week for 20 to 30 minutes and alternate running and walking to ease your body into it. Overtime, you can increase the duration, intensity and frequency of your runs.

Step 3

Vary the incline setting on the treadmill. Set it to at least a one-percent grade to make up for the lack of wind resistance and for the fact that a zero-percent grade can feel slightly downhill to your body, particularly your shins. Consider changing the incline 0.5 to 1 percent every 1/2 or full mile while running so it feels more like the constantly varying terrain you would encounter while running outside.

Step 4

Warm up before you run with a brisk walk for at least five minutes. Commence with a light jog for at least another five minutes before starting a full-out run.

Step 5

Perform exercises regularly to discourage the tightness that can cause shin splints. Stretch your Achilles tendon by standing on a low step or the edge of a platform at the gym. Hang your right heel off and allow it to dip toward the floor. Stretch your hamstrings by lying on your back, right leg extended on the floor. Use a strap to lasso the left foot and gently draw the leg toward you. Stretch the soleus, the smaller, flat muscle that lies underneath the large gastrocnemius of the calf, by standing with your hands placed on a wall and in line with your shoulders. Step your left foot forward and, with bent knees, lean into the wall. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and always do both legs for each. Warm-up for about five to 10 minutes before doing the stretches. These stretches are gentle enough to do everyday.

Step 6

Strengthen the anterior tibialis, the muscle at the shin, with a toe-up, heel-down exercise. Stand with your back to the wall and step the feet forward about six inches. Lean back to brace yourself against the wall and lift your toes up toward your shins. Hold for about five seconds and release. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Increase the time you hold the lift as you become stronger. You can do this exercise several times per week or even every day.

Things You'll Need

  • Stretching strap

  • Low step or platform

Tip

Rest is one of the most effective ways to deal with shin splints once they develop. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says you should be pain free for at least two weeks before trying to run again. The Cleveland Clinic also recommends elevating your legs and icing the shins for 15 minutes at a time for one or two days after a flareup. Return to activity gradually as the condition could become chronic.

Warning

If shin splints are chronic and do not subside with icing and rest, consult your physician. You may be suffering from a more serious condition such as a stress fracture or compartment syndrome.

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