If you’re not familiar with shin splints, count your blessings and allow me to explain: they feel like hot, painful prickles going up and down your shinbones. It took me four years of running to get them, and I learned just how apt the name is; it feels like pieces of your shin are fracturing off.
They’re best known as a running injury, but don’t let that fool you. You can get shin splints from any kind of repetitive, high-impact workout, according to Nirav Pandya, MD, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at UC San Francisco. Think CrossFit or Zumba — classes with intense, pounding movements on a hard surface, such as concrete or hardwood. And you’re especially susceptible if you’re starting or changing up a workout or running routine. “It’s a reflection that you’re doing too much compared to what your body can handle,” said Michael Fredericson, MD, professor and director of physical medicine and rehabilitation and sports medicine at Stanford. “The bottom line is that too much stress is being transmitted to the bone and the muscles are not doing their job.”
As I found out, shin splints are also triggered by terrain changes. They came for me after I switched from running on the sidewalk to the track: a softer surface, but not what my legs were used to. By that time, I’d heard so much about shin splints that I assumed they were something that most athletes just had to work through. That’s not the case at all. Shin splints are technically a low-grade stress response, Dr. Fredericson told POPSUGAR, which means they can turn into a full-blown stress fracture if left untreated. Running through the pain, in fact, is the opposite of what you should do.
Luckily for my ignorant younger self, I mentioned my shin splints in passing to my doctor, not expecting it was something I could fix. He gave me a stretching routine that I’ve used ever since for both prevention and relief when I’ve felt those telltale tingles in my shins. I’ve laid it out in the slides ahead along with some other doctor-approved stretches to try out. Expect some pain and embrace it (you’re healing!).
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