Ask the Expert – Dr. Izzy Lira – September
Q: I just started running longer distances on pavement while I train for a marathon. Is the tightness and pain I’m feeling on the front of my legs, shin splints? What can I do?
A: Pain from shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), can be on either side of the shinbone, or in the muscle itself. This can sometimes occur when constant pounding and stress placed on the bones, muscles, and joints overwhelm the body’s natural ability to repair the damage and restore itself. Although there are various reasons why the dull, aching pain is felt on the front of the leg between the foot and knee, shin splints are considered a stress disorder as opposed to an injury. Running too often on hard surfaces is the most common cause of shin splints but any repetitive impact exercise may bring them on—even walking.
Treating shin splints can be as simple as elevating the leg and applying an ice pack to the affected area to help reduce swelling, purchasing more supportive footwear, and switching to softer running surfaces. Remember to not exceed 20 minutes each time you ice, and always wrap ice cubes, frozen veggies, and store-bought gel ice in a towel or washcloth to avoid burns and frostbite. Repeat icing every few hours as needed. I also recommend active rest, which means that if you run a lot, start swimming or biking a bit to give shin splints time to heal while you still reap the cardiovascular benefits of exercise. Shin splints do not indicate a stress fracture of the shin bone (tibia), although stress fractures can be one of the reasons for lower leg pain. See your doctor or chiropractor for diagnosis if you have persistent pain.
To prevent shin splints from returning, focus on flexibility. When your muscles and tendons are less tight, they can move and perform without being over stretched or stressed. Try these stretches:
- In a kneeling position, point your toes out behind you and gently sit back on your heels, pressing the tops of the feet toward the ground.
- Standing arm-length from a wall, put your hands on the wall while keeping your feet and knees straight, then lean forward as far as possible.
- Standing with your feet flat, bend your knees forward as far as possible keeping your heels on the floor.
- Stand and rise up and down onto your toes several times. You can also make it harder by standing on a step and allowing your calves to stretch over the edge of the step.
Strengthening and stretching while you ease into long runs again will help prevent shin splints from returning. And as always, see your chiropractor or doctor for more tips. Prevention is always better than a cure!
A Doctor of Chiropractic,Izzy Lira is also a strength and conditioning specialist.