You have had a great season of running, racing and pushing your limits. But there has been a nagging pain in the front of your lower leg (shin) that you hoped would go away. The pain stopped when you stopped running but returned once running resumed. Maybe the pain intensified and became more serious. Take action at the first sign of pain and forego this frustration.
If you have signs of shin splints take some proactive measures and solve the problem when it’s just annoying versus a full blown injury.
Shin splint symptoms include tenderness, soreness or pain along the lower leg and may even include some swelling. It will often be painful to the touch. Most cases of shin splints can be treated with rest, ice and yoga!
I don’t espouse yoga miracles – problems that go away with one yoga class but I have seen more than one student solve this problem quickly. Generally the best approach is a full body yoga class with particular attention on both stretching and strengthening the muscle at the front of the leg (tibialis anterior) as well as stretching the back of the leg – calves in particular. Try these simple exercises.
Let’s start with a basic shin stretch. This is the pose that I recommend runners do frequently – daily if possible. At the outset it may be painful in which case prop it up as shown in the image. Over time you will not need the props. Hold for a minute or so at the start and stay longer as it feels better. Never hold it to the point of pain. You are more likely to feel the ankles stretch and not so much the shins. Don’t worry – the shins are stretching also.
If you are not regularly doing this pose – start now. It is THE pose that gives you the best bang for your buck. For the issue at hand it will stretch the calves, especially if you work to straighten the legs, trying to open up the backs of the knees.
Actively contracting the front of the shin will help to strengthen tibialis anterior. Start by isolating the muscle to isometrically contract. From downward dog, step one leg forward and bend it to 90º, knee over the ankle and press the foot firmly to the ground. Place the palm of your hand on the shin and firmly press into the leg and at the same time push the shin into the hand. You should feel the muscle contract beneath your hand. If you can’t feel it, try getting someone else to firmly press into your shin while you push it forward. Try it a few times and it will wake up.
Find this same action while in a lunge position. Next to downward dog, lunges are the best way to gain strength and flexibility in the legs. Press the foot firmly to the floor and contract the front of the shin. You may find that you gain stability in the pose as well.