Take steps to keep shin splints at bay

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A throbbing or aching in the front of the lower leg is usually called shin splints. Shin splints are also known as MTSS or medial tibial stress syndrome.

MTSS usually heals by itself, but if not taken care of it can take you out of your game. There are many causes of shin splints but along with the causes, there are ways to reduce the risk of getting them.

Causes can be categorized into two groups: the first is overloading of the muscles (or training errors) and the second is biomechanical inefficiencies.

To better understand shin splints we need to go over the main components of the lower leg where the pain occurs. The tibia and fibula are the two bones in the lower leg associated with shin splints.

Overloading the muscles attached to the tibia and fibula causes them to become irritated. Biomechanical inefficiencies also irritate the muscles attached to these two bones.

Running itself is not the cause of the irritation to the shins, the sudden shock force of repeated landings and change in direction is. When muscles and tendons become tired and overworked they lose their ability to adequately absorb the damaging shock.

Continuing to exercise once the muscles are tired and overworked stresses them to the point of causing irritation.

There are many things you can do to ease the pain for muscles that are sore or hurt. Preventing the overuse of these muscles so that the pain does not reoccur is an important part of caring for shin splints.

Training the right groups of muscles before the pain happens is important in reducing the risk of injuring or overusing them. There are a few exercises that should help. They include wall toe raises and lunges with plantar flexed feet (toes held up towards the shin).

To perform the first exercise, stand with your back against a wall with your feet about one foot's length from the wall and hip- to shoulder-width apart. Raise your toes up toward your shins as far as you can and then lower, not letting the balls of your feet touch the ground, repeat this for 10-15 repetitions. Once you are comfortable doing 15 repetitions add a set of 15 repetitions up to three sets. The next step is to point the toes out and do the same thing and then point the toes in and perform the exercise again.

Performing lunges or walking while keeping the toes up is a more advanced move that should be done once three sets of 15 repetitions of all the wall exercises can be done. To do these you start out walking and as your heel hits the ground keep your toes pulled toward your shin and do not let them move more than an inch or two toward the ground. Again, do about 15 repetitions working into three sets of 15 repetitions.

Some other parts to preventing shin splints is to make sure you wear the proper foot attire, warm up prior to any rigorous physical activity and always stretch.

Part of preventing injuries and irritations to muscles is to make sure that we balance the type of exercises we do. Talking with a professional can help to ensure you are working the right muscles and balancing them correctly.

Don't let shin splints get the best of you. In most cases shin splints can be treated or better yet avoided through preventive measures. Use these exercises to keep yourself in the game.

Brian Crabtree is currently attending the University of Hawaii studying Kinesiology. He is certified by the YMCA in Group Exercise and Pilates.

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