How To Prevent Shin Splints for Regular Runners

Shin splints vector illustration. Leg muscle sport trauma and bone pain labeled diagram. Isolated femur, patella, fibula, tibia and foot bones with shown injury location.

Last year, I registered for the Atlanta Marathon. But after running 16+ miles for 3 straight weekends, I decided to switch to the Half Marathon because my shin splints were flaring up.

I always figured my shin splints were just my physical fate in life. I’ve had them off and on since I started distance running when I was 11.

The Internet has, of course, never been helpful. And I’ve only received generic advice from doctors and fitness people.

But! When I went to pick up my race packet the day before the race, Dr Kate Edwards of Precision Performance and the More Than Miles podcast was doing a free talk about runner’s injuries and then stayed to take questions after the talk. She was kind enough to listen to my issues and provide some specific advice. Here are a few notes on what she told me about my shin splints.*

*and obviously, I am not trained in anything medical and I am not representing verbatim what Dr Edwards said either. This was my conversation that was addressed to me based on how I described my symptoms and my training. I’m publishing this because I went 20+ years trying to just some sort of direction or know who to talk to. Check out her podcast (or your local PT) for verbatim advice.

So first, make sure your Anterior Tibialis (the muscle that is being strained) is in good shape. Focus on good dorsiflexion. Get enough sleep to maximize recovery. Increase your running cadence – aim for 180 steps per minute. Don’t let your feet land in front of each other.

Second, don’t put all the strain on your shins in the first place. Increase your hip strength and your ankle strength. The muscles in those regions are bigger, better, and can shoulder a lot more of the shock than your shin muscle.

Use exercises like the deadlift and tools like a balance board to really increase your hip & ankle strength.

It turns out that it was the 2nd point that I was missing. I’m pretty sure my shin muscles were in good condition…but they are literally not made to deal with that much shock from training for a marathon. They are sort of like back muscles. They are great and all. But when you have serious strain, you have to spread the shock around to muscles that can & should deal with it. It was my hips and ankles that were weak. And since they were weak, my shins were taking on too much strain.

Deadlifts & balance boards (and better sleep hygiene) have been the answer for me. Those two workout changes have allowed me to consistently increase mileage without worrying about shin injury.

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