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April 25, 2011 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I can't run for more than 3 minutes or so without getting shin splints - what's going on, and how can I fix it?

Just to start - I've read all of the previous threads I could find about shin splints. Most people have them after a mile and a half or so; I'm getting them after 3 minutes of running.

I'm doing Couch to 10k to prep for an eventual half marathon. I'm a big, tubby dude (26 years old, 6'1, 225lbs.), and I've never been a runner at all. I've tried Couch to 5k a few times, but every time I'd get up to any more than 3-4 minute intervals, the pain in my shins would make me miserable and leave me unable to go any further. This is way before I lose my breath or anything else, so this frustrates me incredibly.

Right now, I'm doing about 10 reps of 2run/3walk, and after the second interval, I'm hurting so much that I'm basically limping during my walk intervals. Every one hurts more, and the walking only delays the pain for a moment. After a particularly bad run about a week ago, I'm heading out tonight for another go. I've worked up to 2/3 from 1/4 and 1.5/3.5, doing about 10 reps of each every time I go out (whatever the program suggests).

I've tried rolling a golf ball on my feet, and I have shoes that have been fitted at a running store, like has been suggested in other threads. At this point, I'm not sure what to do. I'm feeling completely overwhelmed and frustrated that this is holding me back. As far as I can remember, I've always had this problem (which was diagnosed as laziness by every PE teacher I've ever had, of course).

Some details: I have been documented as turning my feet in when I run (whichever pronation that is), so I try to run on the outsides when I think about my stride. I tend to run on concrete outside, and I have a treadmill available. I have actual running shoes, and they're about 1/2 way through their lifespan from what I've read about such things. I've tried taking smaller steps, which does help for a while, but then the pain comes again. I'm running at around 5.5mph and walking at around 3.5mph according to my Run Keeper tracker.

So what do I do? New shoes? New exercises? Give up, and take up swimming?
posted by SNWidget to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do you notice if when you are striking the ground you are hitting with your toes, midfoot or heel?

I had horrible shin splints for weeks and I was striking hard with my heels when I would run. Striking midfoot has helped tremendously.
posted by splitinfinitive at 9:26 AM on April 25, 2011

Also, icing after runs, stretching my shins and calf compression sleeves have aided my recovery.
posted by splitinfinitive at 9:29 AM on April 25, 2011

First off, stop running. Running is one of those things where pushing through pain (not discomfort, but pain) will lead to serious injury.

Second, do you do any calf stretches? If not, then now's a great time to start! My understanding is that shin splints are pretty directly related to calf/achilles flexibility. You might also get something out of the Mobility Project - lots of stretching/soft tissue self-care tips there.

Third, if this is a lifelong thing, it may be worth seeing a physical therapist (not a personal trainer, and not a shoe store employee) to figure out if there's anything you need to be doing to deal with your particular gait and body. You're not too heavy to be running - I've jogged obstacle-course 5ks at that weight and at 5'6". But I've been running for twenty years, on and off, and I've figured out most of my personal issues.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Shoes might be an idea. They make a hell of a difference. When you got them, did they watch you walk to see your gait that stuff?
posted by dobie at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2011

Two things to try:
One, run soft. There are two mental exercises that can help with this. You can try to literally run quietly. Or you can pretend you're trying to get home to take a shit, but you don't want to bounce at *all* because, well, you know.
The other thing that has helped me is to stand behind a couch in socks, place your hands firmly on the back of the couch, and make a fist with one, then the other foot. Curl your toes under and smoosh them against the floor. Holding your wight on the couch, mostly, get both feet into this position, then bend your knees a little. Great way to stretch the front of your shins.
posted by notsnot at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2011

You could also experiment with your shoelaces - my shinsplints were less terrible when I stopped over-tightening mine.
posted by Bergamot at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2011

I did the couch to 10k thing years ago. I was thin but flabby and got bad shin splints when I started. Eventually I gave up on the "official" program and just started running, as I found the walk/run timing thing to be annoying and simply running slowly created a rhythm that was better for me.

I still run to this day and no longer get shin splints, ever. In my case, I had to "get in shape to get in shape" and when started out it just plain sucked. I used to come back from runs or treadmill runs at the gym feeling like I was beat up, starving, sick, I got runner's trots (look it up) and shin splints. After a while my body got stronger and I no longer feel like this. Recovery time back to regular breathing off a treadmill is like a minute now. I am not a long distance runner or big time gym rat, but I am in much better shape than my flabby paunchy self from some years back.

Yes, get good shoes and get them properly fitted at a running store. But I think you're just going to have to deal with the shin splints until you get stronger. Good luck.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:34 AM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: To answer some questions already coming up:

Do you notice if when you are striking the ground you are hitting with your toes, midfoot or heel?

I want to believe midfoot, but that might be wrong. I've got enough marching band kid left in me that I occasionally go heel first. I'll check that. I know that when I tend to walk around my apartment barefoot, though, I tend to land on my toes. Wow, sorry, confusing answer.

Second, do you do any calf stretches?

No, not necessarily. I tend to stretch a little bit after my runs, but that's about it.

Shoes might be an idea. They make a hell of a difference. When you got them, did they watch you walk to see your gait that stuff?

I went to my local running store, and they looked at me run back and forth across the room. That's where they figured out that I turned my feet in weirdly.
posted by SNWidget at 9:36 AM on April 25, 2011

Do you do a warm-up lap (i.e. if you are scheduled to run 2 miles, a quarter mile warm-up doesn't count toward the day's goal)? I find that walking for about a quarter mile before I start my scheduled run really helps prevent pain and discomfort.

Actually, I do warm-up and cool-down laps.
posted by oddman at 9:42 AM on April 25, 2011

I'm doing different intervals, but.. well, backing off and increasing slower fixed my shins. I know you don't like it because you're not getting your cardio, but not all parts of your body will strengthen at the same rate. At first my legs were the weakest link, now it's reversed and I'm doubled over wheezing while my legs are still fine. Supplementing with a bicycle helped me feel like I was still "seriously" working out.
posted by anaelith at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2011

Seconding the idea to alternate/supplement running with bicycling if you can, to continue to build strength and endurance while giving your shins some rest.
posted by Bergamot at 9:53 AM on April 25, 2011

I don't know if you have them around your location, but I find that running barefoot on a woodchip jogging trail helps whenever I have problems with my feet / legs / knees / joints / ligaments / whatever. Looks like this or this. Maybe you can find one; maybe it would help. YMMV :)
posted by labberdasher at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2011

The advice I got about shin splints was to stretch out my shins by putting all of my weight on my right foot, then tapping my right toe ten times while pointing it out, straight, and in. This and better shoes have definitely helped me.
posted by rhapsodie at 9:59 AM on April 25, 2011

Get a second opinion about your running shoes.

Also, compression sleeves on my shins work well for my shin splint issue.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:01 AM on April 25, 2011

You are running too fast. Years ago, I was 26, 6'0", and 250 and started running, and well, the only way for me to avoid shin splints was to start running at an embarrassingly slow run. I was running so slowly it was hard not to switch to walking quickly. If you are truly big and tubby and out of shape, 5.5 mph is too fast for now.
posted by advicepig at 10:02 AM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have access to a gym ? Find the shin-bar. It's hard to find (few places have them), and everyone that sees me use it at our gym all say "ooohh, that's what that thing is for!"

Looks something like this

(or, alternatively, you can do the same with a cable/pulley system while seated, or thera-band type things as well)
posted by k5.user at 10:04 AM on April 25, 2011

I think it may be a case of too fast, too soon. Try walking fast or jogging for a couple of weeks to build strength in your calves, and start with the program after that.

I had the same problem a couple of months ago. I had to start running less hard for a while, and build up slowly. It sounds counterintuitive, but backtracking a bit will help you in the long run (heh).
posted by Tarumba at 10:05 AM on April 25, 2011

I had some really awful craps along my shin for a while (I don't know if these are shin splints or not, honestly, but they hurt like hell) when I started up walking/running. I tried stretching, more water, etc., but I found taking vitamin D seemed to help almost miraculously.
posted by griselda at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: Do you do a warm-up lap

I do a 5 minute warm up walk before my first interval at about 3.5 - so I guess that's a little over a quarter mile.

supplement running with bicycling

This is on my todo list for the summer because... ahh... I can't actually ride a bike. That's for another Ask, I guess.

Find the shin-bar.

I'll see if my gym has it - I don't often wander into that part of the gym. I mainly stick to cardio when I go.

Try walking fast or jogging for a couple of weeks

Maybe I've got the definitions wrong in my head, but isn't 5.2-5.5 a jog? It doesn't feel like a run by any stretch - I feel rather pokey in fact. 5.5 is when I'm going good, but sometimes, when I'm really hurting, I get down to 5.0 or so.
posted by SNWidget at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2011

I think you should stop running, and maybe try again later if you lose some weight. The point of a fitness program is ... fitness. Causing yourself pain and injury is the opposite of fitness. It's not like you're the world's best baseball pitcher and you HAVE to pitch through the pain because it's the world series. You're just a normal guy trying to stay healthing. Bike, swim, yoga, weight lifting -- there's lots of other fun stuff out there!
posted by yarly at 10:12 AM on April 25, 2011

Concrete is really tough on your body. Normally I'd say don't run on it unless you have to, but for you I'd say don't run on it period.

You might want to skip the running completely for now and power-walk instead until you lose a little weight. You can actually get going pretty fast with a walk and get up a good sweat. The downside is that you look like a massive dork, but it beats shin splints.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:18 AM on April 25, 2011

5.5 is my easy pace. Not a jog, but not all out. And I've been running for more than a year. It's certainly not a jog.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:21 AM on April 25, 2011

That's where they figured out that I turned my feet in weirdly.

I had shin-splints (which, btw. is a cover term for a lot of different causes and symptoms) due to over-pronation, which I guess is what you mean here. This was fixed by switching shoes to control for that. So I'd also suggest a second opinion on your shoes, or maybe just try a different set of shoes. But, also, most of the things that lead to shin splints are things that won't get better while you keep running, even if you fix the problem. You probably need to stop for a few weeks at least while you heal, maybe as much as a month. In your current training program, were you running for a while, maybe on some old shoes, before getting fitted for your current ones? This is exactly what I did, and I really had to stop running for a while before being able to resume.
posted by advil at 10:21 AM on April 25, 2011

*cramps, ha ha, not craps.

Google shin splints and vitamin deficiency. Vitamin D is so cheap and easy to pick up that it's worth a try.

posted by griselda at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2011

Shin splints are a **VERY COMMON** beginning runners ailment.

I got them last year after I starting aggressively increasing my distance and speed.

My understanding is that the muscles and tendons at the front of your leg need a much more gradual introduction to the stress of running than the rest of your legs.

What worked for me was a combination of 2 months off from long/fast running combined with body weight exercises (back against a wall, heels out 1 foot away from the wall, lift toes/front of foot as high as possible, lower half way (do not touch floor), raise back up, continue for 10-15 reps while varying lowered distance).

Slow down and/or don't go as far, rest the legs more and do some shin strengthening exercises. Gradually ramp your running back up.
posted by de void at 10:28 AM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: In your current training program, were you running for a while, maybe on some old shoes, before getting fitted for your current ones? This is exactly what I did, and I really had to stop running for a while before being able to resume.

No - I've had these for at least a year. I've had at least 2 aborted Couch to 5K attempts on these shoes before the current Couch to 10K attempt. The Couch to 5K attempts were indoors, on a treadmill, and suffered from the same issue, which is leading me to believe that it might, in fact, be the shoes.

Thanks for all of the advice, everyone. I've already got some good ideas, beginning with perhaps getting a second opinion on my shoes.
posted by SNWidget at 10:32 AM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: My wife came up with another good part to this question, and I'll post it here before I have to take off for a bit.

"One thing that might be important to mention or ask... it seems like you'll go a few months without doing any running or serious walking workouts. And then your first time out the gate doing a jog your shins start hurting. It seems like shin splints develop over time with "too much too fast" but is even a 1.5 minute jog the very first time you do it after doing nothing for a month really too much? Maybe it is. Or maybe it's a sign of a more serious latent problem (stress fracture?)."
posted by SNWidget at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2011

You can ride the stationary bicycle in the gym. No previous bike riding experience necessary. They probably even have a recumbent stationary bicycle which is basically a chair that you sit in while you exercise.

For me it went something like: walk outside to warm up, come in and do a fixed distance on the treadmill, do the rest of a fixed time on a stationary bike, then walk outside again to cool down.

If your gym has several types of stationary bicycles, using different ones on different days will keep your seat from getting as sore.
posted by anaelith at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2011

I don't think you're a case of too much, too fast at all. You may have week muscles, wrong shoes, etc. But Couch to 10k is a great program.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2011

I had shin splint problems for about ten years, and could never run more than a half-mile without my whole lower leg locking up. I did everything I could to get over them, even seen orthopedists to try to discover if there was an underlying problem, but to no avail.

THEN I bought a pair or Vibram fivefingers. I started running with them last August, and haven't had ANY shin splint pain since I made the switch to the barefoot style shoe. Those suckers changed my life. I lost 25 lbs in 4 months, ran my first 5K after 3 months, and have plans for a half-marathon next year.
posted by Mimzy at 10:55 AM on April 25, 2011

I aborted two Couch to 5k attempts after the second week due to tendonitis in my knee. Different issue than you, but what has worked for me is 1) not running until I'd lost some more weight (but continuing to do other cardio), and then 2) doing the program very slowly. I did each of the first four weeks twice, and rested two days between each run. So, basically, it took me about three weeks to get through a week. I'm up to Week 5 now with no problems. I see people jogging at the gym all the time who are bigger than I was, but for some reason, I just needed to be smaller. I'm a woman, but I'm almost your height. Last time I had to stop doing Couch to 5k I was about your weight too.
posted by Mavri at 11:24 AM on April 25, 2011

Shin splints are often caused by your calf muscles getting too strong compared to your shin muscles, so the shin muscles can't handle the stresses put on them.

Stretching out your calfs (as mentioned above) is a good idea. Another idea is to strengthen your shin muscles. One way to do this is to walk around on your heels for a couple minutes every day (walk so that the front of your foot never touches the floor -- you look like a goof, so maybe don't do it in public).
posted by auto-correct at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2011

While you're trying all this other stuff to get the shin split stuff worked out, you should be biking or ellipticaling to build up your cardio for when you get back in to running.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2011

There was a bit on this in Runner's World a couple months ago. I can't personally speak to its accuracy but they recommend icing and taping the shin along with rest.
posted by ch1x0r at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2011

This has happened to me and several other couch-to-5k people who got to a point, re-injured each time (knee or shin or ankle or hip pain), and gave up. Then started over much later, only to fail again.

You MUST stretch - even if it's just your calves and hip flexors for a minute or two, please do this. You don't necessarily have to stretch before and after; try walking for about 2 minutes, THEN stretch for a minute or two, THEN start alternating walking and jogging. Squats, lunges, jumping jacks, and jumping rope are all things you should add to your repertoire to help build up your lower body strength before you can just start running for several minutes at a time.

What's happening is that you are building up muscle tone faster than your ligaments, joints and tendons can process; therefore, these connective tissues are becoming strained (or worse, torn/injured) from being used in such a way that they haven't been prepared for over a long period of time. In particular, read #3 in the list here.

I highly recommend you at least alternate workouts with strength training, and really do look up the proper stretching techniques, because stretching incorrectly or for too long also won't help you.

You can always go slower, but you can't go faster until you learn your body's natural pace for developing the ability to run gradually over time. 1.5 minutes is a LONG TIME to run if you've been sedentary for awhile or sit all day at your job. You should be working towards alternating 30-second intervals at most until you feel no pain after 20 minutes, seriously.

I hurt myself so bad a couple of years ago that I'd find myself randomly limping for almost 9 months before I had no recurrences; another friend took up Zumba last year and tore her hip, requiring surgery (she's 36). So yeah, build up your core strength, THEN run - and if you can't run, walk. Your only choices are not "zero" or "balls-out" when it comes to workouts; hell, I still struggle with some basic calisthenics and I've worked out about 4-5x per week for 11 years now.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:58 PM on April 25, 2011

I'll second Mimzy -- I had shin splints for my entire life, to the point where I'd just given up any sort of serious running in favor of cycling. Then last summer, inspired by my wife's Couch To 5K success, I picked up a pair of Fivefingers, did C25K, and am trying to get going to the 10K version this summer.

The plural of anecdote and all that, but for me, it was a really amazing difference.
posted by genehack at 4:19 PM on April 25, 2011

I have been documented as turning my feet in when I run (whichever pronation that is), so I try to run on the outsides when I think about my stride.

First- stop doing this! Consciously pulling your foot into a position that it naturally (for you) doesn't fall into puts tremendous strain on all of the lower leg muscles, which is particularly bad since that also means you're tensing certain muscles around your shin and ankle at the moment of contact. If your rolling inward needs correction, that correction should happen after you make contact with the ground and via motion-control shoes and/or orthotics.

Everyone has offered a lot of advice about stretching your calf muscles, but in order to fully correct an imbalance where stronger calf muscles pull too hard, you need to strengthen the muscles alongside and in front of your shin.

Try these exercises. A few of them use resistance bands, but you can use a jumprope or wet towel almost as effectively. Also- toe scrunches with a dry towel: sit in a chair, lay a towel on the floor, place your bare feet lightly on the towel and just using your toes try to start moving part of the towel toward you by scrunching up sections of it.

Good luck! My guess is that some consistent strengthening for a few weeks before starting back again slowly will take care of the problem.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:46 PM on April 25, 2011

Also- the jury is still out on the benefits of stretching in injury prevention.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:49 PM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: Slight update: in a fit of whatever, I decided to go to my local running store and see what they thought. After trotting around the store for a bit, they discovered I had uneven pronation; my right foot was pronating like crazy, but my left was almost normal. The postulated that the shoes I'm wearing, which are to correct a large amount of pronation in my right foot, were causing issues with my left by compressing and turning it weirdly.

Apparently, fracturing my right foot as a kid did have some effects.

I didn't have the cash to put on a new pair of shoes tonight, but they suggested another set.

What I had been running on.
What they suggested I run on.

Right now, I'm going to try taping it up and not pushing so hard. I'll get the new shoes at the beginning of the month, try them out for a bit, and return them if I'm still having trouble (or if it moves to the other shin).
posted by SNWidget at 5:17 PM on April 25, 2011

The shoe store's solution is always going to be new shoes. That's why someone suggested physio.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm your height, used to be your weight, pronate like crazy and have exactly the same problem. When I walk, I now instinctively correct my feet using the muscles in my lower legs. When I run, I have a tendency to run on the balls of my feet, which overuses my calves. I am very fit and have strong legs, but it still causes lasting pain.

In high school, I was a good runner. Then, I went through a period of extreme knee agony. Now, I ride a bike.
posted by klanawa at 9:12 PM on April 25, 2011

Don't overlook the overly tight shoelaces someone mentioned above. Your shoelaces should not be pulled tight up the tongue. They should fit loosely through the shoe. If you are pulling your shoeslaces before you tie them, they are too tight. This can lead to problems you mention.
posted by ShootTheMoon at 10:02 PM on April 25, 2011

Response by poster: The shoe store's solution is always going to be new shoes. That's why someone suggested physio.

I get that - the nice thing about this store is that they have a 30 day return on all shoes if you run indoors. I can give them a test on a treadmill and see if it helps. I also got some compression stuff to see if that'll help in conjunction with the stretches and exercises.

I'm going to try a lot of the flexes/exercises suggested in here and see if that helps in conjunction with a few other things, such as taking it easy and trying to mix up running with other cardio.

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. It makes me feel better that this isn't some weird, "I'm too much of a wuss to run" kind of thing. It does make me a little anxious, though, to know that it would be one of a million things causing it. I'm not always the most patient person, so trial and error tends to drive me nuts.
posted by SNWidget at 6:08 AM on April 26, 2011

If some of the above suggestions don't work, I'd really suggest seeing a doctor.

I know two people who had shin splints so bad and recurring that didn't respond to the things mentioned here. They both eventually went to a doctor and both had compartment syndrome.

As I understand, it there's a membrane surrounding the muscle called the fascia. The muscle needs to expand but the fascia is too tight with compartment syndrom and won't let the muscle expand, causing pain. They both had surgery to basically put a slit in the fascia. The recovery was about a month for both of them and they're both pain free now.
posted by bubonicpeg at 6:56 AM on April 26, 2011

The shoe store's solution is always going to be new shoes. That's why someone suggested physio.

That's a good point, but in this case I think the shoe store workers are right. The shoes you have now are pretty much the clunkiest, most motion-controlling shoe on the market. They are great for heavy runners who over-pronate like crazy, but if you are only over-pronating a lot on one side, it means the other side is always fighting the over-correction of the shoe. Getting into a pair of shoes that are a wee bit more flexible and forgiving might split the difference enough to stop the problems.

I over-pronated on one side and under-pronated on the other, and a lightly stable shoe with custom hard orthotics was the only thing that worked to keep me on the road as often as I was.
posted by stagewhisper at 7:04 AM on April 26, 2011

or if it moves to the other shin

So wait a minute, does only one side actually hurt right now?
posted by anaelith at 1:03 PM on April 26, 2011

It makes me feel better that this isn't some weird, "I'm too much of a wuss to run" kind of thing.

You shouldn't let your pride get mixed up in this! It's perfectly possible that running just isn't for you. No big deal, and not worth torturing yourself over!
posted by yarly at 1:06 PM on April 26, 2011

Response by poster: So wait a minute, does only one side actually hurt right now?

It's mostly on my left, and somewhat on my right, but only after long periods of time. My left will go first, every time.
posted by SNWidget at 10:13 PM on April 26, 2011

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