“How can I prevent and fix shin splints?”

—Michael, New Castle, Delaware

Feeling a nagging, sharp pain in the shin after an intense workout or run? This is shin splints, miniature stress fractures in the bone. Shin splints are not uncommon. They typically result from overuse or participating in unfamiliar physical activities (e.g., when we get super-excited about getting into running, and forget to build up gradually).

These three strategies will help you avoid, manage, and treat shin splints:

  1. Stretch and strengthen the shin muscle (tibialis anterior) and calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus).These muscles primarily flex and extend the foot, which controls impact with the ground. If you don’t have shin splints but want to prevent them, incorporate these two exercises into your morning or workout routine.
    • Ankle ABCs: Spell the alphabet by rolling your ankles. Move each ankle and foot through its entire range of motion by exaggerating each letter. This includes pointing and bending your toes.
    • Calf raises: Stand on a step or small ledge with the balls of your feet. Do this beside a railing or wall, to help with balance. Press through the balls of your feet to flex the ankle and lift the body. Control the motion back down and repeat. The same movement done seated with bent knees will engage the soleus. Begin with 2–3 sets of 10 reps.
  2. Start slow. Shin splints are likely to occur in less active individuals who begin exercising. Other factors such as a change in footwear, terrain, and intensity of activity can also increase the risk of getting shin splints.For example, before participating in a 5k race, it’s important to train appropriately. Progressively increase your speed and distance over the course of several weeks instead of trying to sprint the entire run on day one. Make sure to break in new sneakers and walk or jog on terrain that’s similar to that where the 5k will take place.
  3. Let yourself heal. Rest is considered an effective primary treatment for shin splints, and not resting may prolong recovery times. Other forms of treatment include ice, massage, and even medication. Speak with a medical professional about these options.