Shin splints are an inflammation of the muscular structures on the front of the lower legs, i.e. the shins. The major muscle in this area is the tibialis anterior, which is responsible for dorsi flexion of the ankle (raising the toes toward the nose). Shin splints are usually caused by the repetitive pounding the shin area is subjected to during running.
To help prevent this injury, or any other orthopedic injury, strengthening the area in question is indicated. The problem in this case is finding a way to incorporate resistance into the dorsi flexion, or raising the toes, movement. If you have a personal trainer or a training partner, this can be accomplished with manual resistance. The trainee would sit lengthwise on a bench with their feet and ankles extending over the end of the bench. The trainer or partner places their hands on the top of the trainee’s feet (on the shoe laces). The trainee starts with their toes pointed and pulls their toes toward their nose with the trainer applying resistance. The resistance should be sufficient to allow the trainee to go through a full range of motion in about 4 seconds. Once the toes are as close to the nose as possible, the trainee will lower back to the starting position with the trainer still applying resistance. This should also take about 4 seconds. A set of 12 reps in this fashion is recommended. It is important for the trainee and trainer to communicate and work together to make the set effective. Effective in this case means all the strength has been squeezed out of that muscle by the 12th rep. If 12 reps cannot be achieved, the trainer applied too much resistance. If the trainee can still do more reps after reaching 12, the trainer didn’t apply enough resistance. It takes some practice to get it just right if you haven’t done it before, but it is one of the toughest workouts once you get it right.
Some gyms have apparatus available for performing dorsi flexion. One such device is called a DARD, which is made up of metal tubing which you slide your feet into, add barbell plates and perform the exercise just like the manual resistance workout. Hammer Strength also makes a dorsi flexion machine. Check with your trainer or gym staff to find out if such devices are available at your facility.
Other considerations for runners suffering from shin splints include proper warm up, proper footwear and avoiding over-training. Make sure these aspects of your running training are accounted for. Remember, exercise is supposed to help you-not hurt you!
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