I don't know about you guys, but I have been plagued with shin splits for as long as I can remember. Even back in middle school and high school, I would leave my basketball or volleyball practices feeling like I couldn't take another step. Let's not even talk about the discomfort of doing any speed work on the track. Shin splints are a pain (literally) and seem to linger on from season to season unless you take very good preventitive care and stay on top of it throughout your training.
Here are a few tips and tricks that have helped me tackle the pain:
1. Warm-Up & Heat - Make sure to get your legs nice and warm before starting any workouts that may cause shin pain. You want to make sure that the muscles that attach to the tibia and fibula have adequate blood flow before you begin your exercise - tight and stiff muscles/tendons risk being stretched beyond their natural range of movement resulting in pain and inflamation. I have found that heating the lower leg (whirl pool or heating pad) seems to really help my legs feel better as I get started with my workout. You can also warm up the muscles in the front of the shin by doing foot circles (circles, up/down, right/left).
2. Strength - It is very important to keep up with your calf and hamstring exercises if you have trouble with shin pain. Calf raises (straight, toes out and toes in) as well as hamstring curls (heels up on the bouncy-ball, shoulders on the ground, hips raised, curl your heels in) are both great exercises to incorporate into your core workout (3 sets of 15, 2-4 times weekly). Maintaining strength in these antagonist muscles will help reduce the tension on the muscles in the front of the shin.
3. Stretching - In addition to strengthening the muscles, you want to stretch very well before and after workouts. Calf and hamstring stretches are important as well as stretching the muscles in the front of the foot/ankle. To get a better stretch for the front muscles in the lower leg, start in the calf stretch position (pushing your arms against the wall, pressing the calves to the ground) and then push your knee slightly forward (your heel coming up in the back).
4. Exercises without Resistance - Making circles or writing the alphabet with your foot is an easy way to strengthen the smaller muscles in the front of the leg or shin area as well as the ankle. The great thing about these exercises is that you can do them easily during the day or while sitting at your desk.
5. Exercises with Resistance - The elastic bands are great for this. Have a friend hold the elastic band on both ends pulling against your foot. Hang your foot over the edge of a bench or ledge and raise your toes back toward your shin (3 sets of 15) - you should feel this in the outside of your lower leg. You can also do this by tying the elastic band in a loop and hooking it around a heavy object like a table. With this method, you should do three different exercises - up and down, center to right and center to left. Make sure that you are only moving your foot(not the knee or leg).
6. Shoes Shoes Shoes - With all the miles that we put on our legs, we should be replacing our shoes about every 400 miles or 3-6 months (most people don't replace their shoes frequently enough, leading to injuries). You also want to make sure you have the right shoes for your foot type and/or running style. Problems with pronation, poor running technique and low arches (flat feet) are all common causes of shin splints. Most running stores can watch you run to determine what shoes will work best for you. Orthodics and inserts can also help tremendously.
7. **ART Therapy** - After years of battling shin splints, I found that ART therapy was the very best thing for my shins. It seemed like a miracle cure, although definitely not a pain free process (funny how those metal tools can be your best friend and enemy at the same time!) Fortunately (or unfortunately), you can do a similar type of therapy on yourself at home. Take the end of a spoon (top end) and run it up and down your shins to break up the adhesions that form along the bone. You can also grind your thumb up and down the shin bone. FUN, I know!
8. Too Much Too Fast - Shin splints often result from overloading your lower leg muscles. Increasing your intensity or duration too quickly as well as running on uneven surfaces or increased "pounding" on concrete/hard surfaces are a few of the most common causes of inflammation in these muscles. Make sure that when beginning a training program you build gradually and incorporate speed work at a moderate pace.
9. Ice - Make sure to ice your shins after every practice. Every practice. You can use ice bags, however running an ice block up and down the shin (or in small circles) is said to be more effective.
10. Rest - If none of these options have worked for you, I hate to say it but you might just need some good old fashioned rest. Triathletes are not good at this in general, but sometimes a day or two off the legs can really help. And don't worry, you aren't going to lose all your fitness in two days....seriously ;)
I hope that these tips will come in helpful! Feel free to ask me if you have any questions.