My shins burn when I walk.
March 14, 2005 6:34 PM   Subscribe

My shins burn when I walk on a treadmill. Please tell me how to make it stop.

I joined a gym. I got a trainer. I've got a program. I've been sticking with the program. The program calls for lots of cardio. On weight days, it calls for 30 minutes on the treadmill. My trainer wants me to go at 4.0 mph at a slight incline. Anything past about 3.4 causes the most horrible, awful, terrible, excrutiating pain in my shins.

The trainer checked my shoes. It isn't my shoes. The trainer said stretch - I've been stretching (but am open to suggestions on how better to stretch those muscles). I don't start at 4.0, obviously, I work up to it. Is there something I should be doing?

Also, is 4.0 time to jog? I'm scared of jogging on the treadmill and do more intense cardio on the elliptical trainer for that reason. Maybe if I jogged, it wouldn't hurt so much? Help!!
posted by dpx.mfx to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I also used to get terrible shin splints. My trainer said it was important to strike with the heel first and then role along the ball of the foot. I found that made all the difference, and suddenly jogging and running were tolerable, even easy.
posted by carmen at 6:42 PM on March 14, 2005

My shin splints were cured by 1)Doing a certain exercise I'll describe below and 2)insoles specially designed for arch support.

The exercise goes like this: Sit on the floor, lean back on your elbows, bend one knee and place that foot flat on the floor. Place the other leg across the bent knee so that the knee hits and supports in in the middle of the calf. Write the alphabet with the toe of the foot that is now in mid-air. You'll feel the burn- this is good. I think this exercise both strengthens and stretches and it really helped me, along w/ those insoles, which can be purchased for not too much money.
posted by PhatLobley at 6:54 PM on March 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, as a long-time track runner, I can tell you that shin splints are one of those nagging injuries that just won't go away. There are a number of things you can do to help alleviate the problem:

1) Take a break, get some rest, and restart your program but more gradually. Shin splints fall in the spectrum of overuse injuries.

2) Reduce the amount of high impact exercise you do. Trade the pool or bike for the treadmill if you can.

3) Consider orthotic inserts. A great deal of shin splints are from poor kinesthetics as carmen notes. Most commonly arch problems like over pronation (flat feet) are at the heart of these problems. If you have flat feet the ultimate solution would be to get molded by a podiatrist for orthotics, over buying the cheapo premade ones.

4) Ice, ice, and more ice. When I was competing, I went so far as whirlpool ice baths after each practice for 10-20 minutes at a time.

5) Anti-inflammatories will help with symptoms, but go easy on them. Aspirin and its brethren are not as benign as they are often made out to be, especially when taken frequently over prolonged periods.

6) Full range of motion stretches at the level of the ankle. Also, the exercises PhatLobley mentions are helpful to strengthen the supporting muscles (especially the muscles of dorsiflexion).
posted by drpynchon at 6:58 PM on March 14, 2005

I have the same problem (more so on hard pavement than on a treadmill) so I generally would use the elliptical instead of the treadmill.
posted by matildaben at 7:05 PM on March 14, 2005

Don't shin splints hurt sort of consistently? My shins only hurt when I'm walking quickly - as soon as I stop walking quickly, they stop hurting. I can walk up a steep incline without problem, so I've just been walking slower and up hill to increase my heart rate.

I'll definitely look into inserts - I've never thought that I had flat feet, but I definitely walk on the "inside" of my feet, if that makes sense. Seems like forcing there to be more of an arch would help put the pressure on the right spot.

posted by dpx.mfx at 7:06 PM on March 14, 2005

The pain of shin splints should die down within an hour or less of exercise. If they persist, then the concern would be a stress fracture.

Oh, and walking on the "inside" IS over-pronation, so hopefully if you can find the appropriate arch support it'll make a world of difference. Best of luck.
posted by drpynchon at 7:14 PM on March 14, 2005

How to make it stop? Don't walk on a treadmill /Tommy Cooper

I'm sorry. Someone had to.
posted by Decani at 7:16 PM on March 14, 2005

I've got fairly pronounced out-toeing (my tracks in the snow are at 90° angles). I also get pain in my shins if I walk swiftly for more than a few minutes. What are the odds that those are connected?
posted by GeekAnimator at 7:19 PM on March 14, 2005

Alexander Technique is good for alignment issues - I had pretty significant turnout (what GeekAnimator calls "out-toeing") from dancing growing up and I was able to realign pretty significantly. I also find that doing a fair amount of deliberate toe-tapping exercises (both sitting and standing) helps reduce shin splints. I generally do 50 on each leg before getting on a treadmill. But mostly I just do elliptical instead.
posted by judith at 7:39 PM on March 14, 2005

Dr. Pynchon has some good advice. I had shin splints during a cross country season and I think it was caused more by the muscles on the back of the leg being tight. My pain stopped when I was not running. You can massage the calf and soleus with your hands or with ice. Try pool running and the bike.
posted by Frank Grimes at 7:41 PM on March 14, 2005

As an old Cross Country runner, if I may add our technique to help with shin splints:
Sit on a chair and then extend on of you legs straight so it is perpendicular with the ground while the other foot remains on the floor. Stretch out our extended leg's toes and proceed to make the alphabet, count, or something with your outstretched toes. Rinse and repeat with your other leg. This exercise helps to strengthen those shin muscles to prevent shin splints.
Then again, everyone else has good advice, so listen to them too =)
posted by jmd82 at 7:59 PM on March 14, 2005

It may not be shin splints. Is it? Sometimes if I do a lot of up down movement with my feet (I know there's an exercise science term) the muscle at the front of my leg next to the shin gets really tired and sore. Not shin splints mind you, which I think is the shearing off of the muscle, just muscle soreness. It's a funny muscle that gets worked out a lot with walking and some other acitvities but not much else.

Make sure it's not just muscle soreness
posted by Napierzaza at 8:47 PM on March 14, 2005

jmd82, you mean "parallel" rather than "perpendicular", right? I used this same excercise getting over an ankle sprain.

dpx.mfx, 4mph is a somewhat hurried walking pace, difficult to unconsciously maintain on a sustained incline. It's probably not quite a jog. In the past, when getting back into exercising, I've experienced exactly the same thing: shin pain at a fast walking pace going uphill.

I came to believe that above a certain pace I was just never relaxing my foot -- that it remained flexed in same position where I picked it up, all the way through the forward leg motion. I had to force myself to slow down for a week or two. The shin pain went away, and later I was able to pick up the pace a little.

My suggestion is to do the same distance at your comfortable pace; you're really only talking about a few extra minutes (4mph for 30 min. = 3.4mph for 35 min.), and if the purpose is to get your heart rate up to a certain level, you're probably succeeding anyway. If your experience is like mine, in a few weeks you'll be able to do it.

On preview, I think Napierazaza is describing what I had, and probably what you have too.
posted by coelecanth at 8:52 PM on March 14, 2005

If your gym has a pool and you are open to it, I would recommend asking your trainer about going the swimming route. (Please don't pool run--that is an evil exercise that wastes a lane people could be swimming in.) Some people may tell you swimming isn't as effective as running, but that isn't true. You just have to be sure you are hauling ass.
posted by dame at 9:07 PM on March 14, 2005

Recently, when I run, I would get a pain in one of my lower legs just below the shins, near the bottom of the calf on the inside. I stopped running, especially on days I worked (I walk alot at work) and moved to biking and swimming. I've found that the stair climb (the ones that are like little escalators) don't hurt my legs in the same way running does, and gives a better cardio workout than biking or swimming has.
posted by drezdn at 10:46 PM on March 14, 2005

Yell at your trainer! Shin splints come from doing too much, too soon. They're exacerbated by pronation, improper stretching, and imbalances between your leg muscles, but ultimately they come from putting too much stress on your legs before they're ready.

But once you got 'em, they're not going to go away unless you stop everything you're doing and leave the running be for a long time. This is probably the best option, because if you don't give them time to heal and increase your pace they can turn into stress fractures.

Water-running or using an elliptical trainer can simulate the running motion without putting as much stress on your shins. When you work back into it ease in very, very slowly--alternate walking and running, don't take downhills fast, don't do anything that causes your shins pain.

I started walking barefoot everywhere last summer for reasons unrelated to shin splints. Maybe it was the foot-strengthening or something, but now the splints and pronation are virtually gone.

(Shin splints in the early stages only hurt when you're doing the exercise. Later on they start hurting more often)
posted by schroedinger at 12:54 AM on March 15, 2005

My wife does the toe-tapping mentioned above every time she hits the treadmill. Go into a standing leg stretch pose, hands pressing the wall, one leg forward and one back. Tap the forward toe ten or 12 times, straight ahead, then tap while swiveling the foot left and right (think heel-and-toe gas pedals in a car). Then switch feet. The tapping seems to stretch and prepare the muscle for the pounding of the run.
posted by werty at 6:17 AM on March 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Napierazaza and coelecanth explain what I think I'm feeling - more like muscle pain than actual shin pain. But I don't want it to turn into shin pain. I'm going to try a combination of the advice in here and see what happens. Thanks, everyone.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:36 AM on March 15, 2005

split shins, in my experience, is like needles being stuck into your shin. a very sharp, hot, piercing pain. i don't know if my experience is normal, but if so, you wouldn't confuse it with "the usual" tired/aching muscles.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:08 AM on March 15, 2005

Andrew, the pain is definitely hot and piercing. It's very... burn like, and different than, say, muscle failure pain on the last rep of a weight set.

I'm thinking these extra stretches and searching for some arch support are the way to go first. I just don't want to give up in frustration and pain when I've finally got a routine I like!
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:24 AM on March 15, 2005

Yell at your trainer!
After you yell at your trainer, then get a new one. Your trainer should know better, and should also know that they will get worse if you continue the running.

But once you got 'em, they're not going to go away unless you stop everything you're doing and leave the running be for a long time.
Seconded. I had to switch from running to bicycling last summer when my shin splints weren't getting any better.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:26 AM on March 15, 2005

Another exercise is laying a cloth towel out flat in front of you while you're sitting down and bare foot. Using your toes by curling them down toward your body, grab the towel and bunch it up under your feet. Keep doing it until the towel's other end reaches you. Note you are pulling the towel towards you by bunching it up under your feet; you are not picking the towel up off the floor. Do this for 5-10 minutes warming up your muscles before your walk.

I consider my shin splints an equal to tennis elbow. The muscle is damaged yet the damage is not significantly enough for the body to fully heal it on its own like an open body wound/sore or internal infection. I’ve also been told that scar tissue may have developed and orthopedic surgery may fix mine.

The man that designed the thicker tennis racket said he fixed his tennis elbow by cauterizing the elbow with a red hot iron rod. The cauterizing made a larger body wound than the tennis elbow. So because of that the body recognized a bigger fix healing it and the tennis elbow too. From hearing that I took shin splits as a nagging sprang/bruise that takes longer to heal than a ripped muscle. Because the body is able to identify a ripped muscle better than a muscle bruise when healing them.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:33 AM on March 15, 2005

I've had everything from anterior and posterior shin splints (basically inflamed muscles) to bilateral tibial stress fractures from running too much. I'm actually feeling great right now, even after running 10 miles in an hour twenty last week, but I know how you feel.

I've found that walking very fast will cause the sort of pain you're describing quicker than if I were jogging at a slow pace. Usually, the pain goes away after about 20-30 minutes of continuous exercise, although you may not feel like continuing the exercise for that long. That doesn't mean you should try jogging - that's a much higher impact activity than walking faster, and you might not be ready for that either.

For the same amount of cardio benefit, you could do the elliptical train or ride a bike (I prefer the recline bikes over the uprights).

To recover from your current predicament: RICE - Rest Ice Compression (Ace Bandages work great) Elevate. Take some anti-inflammatories (IANAD).

When you're ready to start again, myself, other MeFites above, and several of my colleagues have had good luck with Toe-Tappers. Also, don't increase your exercising more than 10% per week.

Good luck, and keep up your motivation! It'll pay off in the end. :)
posted by cactus at 11:41 AM on March 15, 2005

Repeat the "give your legs a rest" -- go swimming or biking instead.
You may also want to wrap your shins with elastic bandages or athletic tape before exercising when you do start your jogging or fast walking exercises..., repeat rest for now.

The wrapped shins will help by strengthening and preventing more injury. You’re lucky today as there are more wraps available that are non adhesive. So shaving your lower leg is not needed. Good luck.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:48 AM on March 15, 2005

frustration and pain
Frustration is a mental obstacle. Pain is the mind telling us to stop.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:51 AM on March 15, 2005

I had something similiar when i started out on a treadmill. I figured it was because I was out of shape and my legs weren't used to it. I just suffered through it and it went away after a couple of weeks.
posted by Justin Case at 1:23 PM on March 15, 2005

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