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How to Treat and Prevent Shin Splints

Shin splints is a catch-all term for shin pain, usually caused by a slight separation between the shin muscle and the bone. You can develop shin splints from doing more exercise than your body is ready to handle or simply from introducing a new aspect to your training, such as wearing a new pair of shoes, running downhill, or running on the beach when you normally run on asphalt.

To cure shin splints, back off for a few days. When you’re free of pain, start back up gradually. Don’t increase your exercise time or distance by more than 10 percent a week. Ice helps by reducing inflammation and by dulling the pain. Also, gently but deeply massaging the area several times a day can help.

Try the ice massage method. Fill a paper cup 3/4 full of water and stick it in the freezer. When the water freezes, peel the cup down so you have what resembles an ice cream cone of ice. Use this to massage the shins in a circular motion for as long as you can take it, usually four or five minutes. Ice massage penetrates deeper into your muscles than passively throwing an ice pack over the injured area. Be sure to keep the ice moving.

To prevent shin splints, strengthen your shin muscles so that they work more in harmony with your calves, the muscles that operate in opposition to them. Here’s one simple exercise:

  1. Stand on the floor or with your heels on the edge of a stair, with your weight distributed evenly over the entire length of your foot.

  2. Lift and lower your toes and the balls of your feet 20 to 30 times.

Ask a trainer to show you some other shin exercises. Stretching the calf muscles also helps prevent injury to the shin and ankle.

Be sure to replace your athletic shoes often so your shins don’t take a pounding from lack of cushioning. A podiatrist or sports-medicine specialist (or even a well-informed running store associate) can help you find the solution that suits your style. If all else fails, your podiatrist may make a special pair of inserts, called orthotics, to properly position your feet in your shoes.

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