Last week we talked about how the design of your exercise program could impact your likelihood of shin splints, and how you (or your coach or trainer) can design a program that decreases your risk. Good program design is certainly very important for avoiding any type of overuse injury; to get more bang-for-buck and decrease your injury risk further still, make sure to incorporate a good warm up and cool down into your session. The exercises and techniques presented here can be used either before or after the bulk of your workout, or both.
Pre- and Post-Workout Prevention Techniques
Your body usually works best when all the moving pieces can actually move the way they are supposed to. If muscles and connective tissue are tight, they can pull on the sheath of connective tissue surrounding the bone, leading to swelling and pain – the main symptoms. While muscle length and joint mobility also affect how well we move (or how poorly), there is a system that allows for the best results: Tight muscle and connective tissue will not stretch as easily, so relieving the tension means that any stretching you do will be more effective, and normal muscle tension and length will let you get more out of your joint mobility exercises. In a nutshell:
1. First relieve tight muscles with self massage (or go get a deep tissue massage for better results!).
2. Second, stretch the loosened muscles as appropriate.
3. Finish with some joint mobility exercises.
Self Massage and Soft Tissue Work
Since shin splint pain is theorized to come from tight muscles pulling on the bone, decreasing muscle tension can significantly decrease the risk of developing the injuries. Some areas will have a greater positive impact than others:
Calf massage with tennis ball
Sit on floor with one leg straight, and place the tennis ball under the calf. Roll the tennis ball up and down or side to side under the calf. If more pressure is needed, lean forward from the hips. Make sure you avoid the back of the knee.
Plantar Fascia massage with tennis ball
In socks or bare feet, roll a tennis ball under the sole of the foot along the arch.
Tibialis Anterior (Shin) massage with foam roller
Lay face down with the foam roller under the shin. Roll sideways slightly and lift torso and hips off the ground to settle body weight onto bottom leg. Roll up and down along the outside of the shin.
Ice Massage (Post-Workout only)
This is a good one for an especially long or tough session, after you’ve done all your other cooling down. It does require some planning ahead (this is where our program design can really come into play).
Get a small paper or styrofoam cup and fill it with water. Put it in the freezer a day or two before your workout (or more) – the idea is that it’s frozen solid when you need it. Once you’re done cooling down, tear the top of the cup off, so that there is ice sticking out, but you still have something to hold on to. Rub the ice up and down your shin (you can make curlicues, or draw the alphabet – endless possibilities!). You want to keep the ice moving, as prolonged exposure can actually give you an ice burn. BE CAREFUL. You might also want to use a towel under your leg, because this WILL be messy.
Stretching and Joint Mobility Work
Once muscle tension is decreased, move on to your static stretching and joint mobilization work. Stretching comes first: Calves and the front/side of the shin (the areas targeted by the self massage above) are the goals. There are a number of ways to stretch your calves, and both are beneficial. You can do whichever feels best for you, or you can cover all your bases and do both:
The calves can exert a lot of pull on the bone and connective tissue in the shin, but so can the numerous small muscles in the outside front and side of the lower leg. There are a couple of different ways to stretch these muscles as well. When using either version, keep the toes turned slightly towards the opposite foot.
Front and outer shin stretches
Remember, no matter what you are stretching or why, it should only to be to the point of discomfort, never pain. Muscles and connective tissue will eventually tear – not something you want!
Joint mobility – Knee to wall ankle mobilizations
Last, but not least, our joint mobility exercise. While there are many that could be used to promote ankle mobility, I find the Knee-to-wall ankle mob (short for mobilization) a user friendly one.
– Stand square to wall with toes of one foot touching the wall
– Keep heel on ground and touch knee to wall (If the heel comes up, the exercise becomes worthless)
– If you easily touch the wall with your knee and keep your heel on the ground, slide the foot out 1/4 to 1/2 an inch and repeat; Continue until touching the knee and keeping the heel down is a challenge
– Do 10-15 on each side
– Tip: To help keep heel on ground, think about pushing the heel down as you drop the knee towards the wall
There you go! After discussing the causes of this injury, how to design your exercise program to prevent them, and now today’s installment discussing exercises to decrease your injury risk, we are done. This has been more on shin splints than I ever thought I would write, and possibly more than you ever thought you might do for prevention, but better a little effort now than a lot of recovery later!
Prevention Tactics for Shin Splints, Part 1
What Is It: Shin Splints
Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in the Alexandria area or the rest of Northern Virginia, please get in touch.