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Shin Splints and Foot Pain

November 6, 2012 - Written by Caleb Walker

Shin splints and foot pain are common struggles for the active population. Shin splints usually occur from overuse, and this annoying leg pain is common among dancers, runners, and military personnel. Foot pain is another overuse problem, but not always due to overtraining. Foot pain can be the result of improper footwear, obesity, uneven surfaces, and/or tight or weak muscles.

Beginning with shin splits, which are often triggered by abrupt changes in activity, there are signs and symptoms for which to look. The first thing you’ll notice, obviously, is the pain. It’s a dull ache of sorts and very nagging. You may feel this ache in two different parts of the leg, and not always in both. The first location is just to the inside of the shin bone, more toward the back of the leg. The next spot is to the outside of the shin bone, more on top of the leg. This dull ache is actually inflammation of the connective tissue covering the bone. Don’t worry, no surgery is required to fix this type of injury!

 To manage shin splints, begin with modifying your workouts. Because the injury comes from overtraining, if you dial down your workouts and mix in some lower-impact and lower-mileage activities, such as water aerobics, you may feel some of the pain disappear. If the pain lingers, rest is the best course of action. Combining rest with some icing of the aching area is a powerful combination. If the pain is severe, physical therapy is recommended, as stretching, modalities, and various soft-tissue mobilizations will be used.

 Often, shin splints and foot pain coincide with each other. If you have muscle imbalances in the muscles of the lower leg, it can affect your ankle movement, which in turn increases the odds for shin splints and foot pain. For this reason, stretching and strengthening is highly recommended for people of all fitness levels, not only to make workouts more effective, but to prevent injuries. The calf muscles should always be stretched, as they often become shortened. The anterior, or front, compartment of the leg also needs stretching. This area is almost always neglected.

 Here are some exercises for the lower leg to prevent and help get rid of shin splints:

 Foot Extension Stretch. Sit in a chair, cross one leg, placing the foot and ankle over the opposite knee, and gently pull the foot downward directly away from the shin bone, holding for 15-20 seconds. These stretches should remain pain-free.

 Toes Raises. To strengthen that same compartment, sit down and place the feet flat on the ground. Bring the toes and foot up toward the shin and knee, keeping the heel on the ground, and then lower the foot back to the starting point. This motion will strengthen those tiny shin muscles that often cause so much pain.

 ABCs. Another great exercise for the ankle and lower leg muscles are ABCs. Extend one leg at a time and write the alphabet with your foot. This is great for warming up before a run or activity.

Flat feet and feet with excessive arches can cause a lot of foot pain. If you have one of these factors, you need to have proper footwear. Get fitted for footwear, and look for shoes that coincide with the type of activity you will be doing the most.

 Finally, avoid a lot of uneven surfaces. It’s not recommended to run on sand everyday. The same is true of trails. According to some research, asphalt has actually been deemed to help prevent Achilles tendon issues, because while it may not be as soft as grass, it is not uneven. “Softer” sometimes leads to “uneven”, and as mentioned, this can cause shin splints and foot pain.

 Shin splints and foot pain are not fun, and they can be hard to stop. As always, preventing these issues before they happen is the best idea, but you don’t always have that luxury. When they hit you, look for the symptoms and act accordingly. They will go away if you take the right steps. If nothing seems to work, rest your legs. Listen to your body, and you will be back out there blazing the trails in no time.

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