Shin Splints, Treadmills, & Prevention Measures

I attempted to get in a morning walk this morning. This Michigan mid-April weather has been strange with freezing temperatures and snow flurries, so I took to my treadmill. Yet by 0.59 miles into the walk, I was literally in tears as I held myself up by the treadmill’s armrests and stretched my calves. I tried to push forward to at least complete a mile worth of walking but couldn’t even at a slow tempo due to pain searing up my legs. My cheeks were damp as I hobbled off the machine, beating myself up with discouragement. Why was I suffering from these shin splints all of a sudden?

I’m one of those outlandish runners: I actually love running indoors. As a Michigander and a fair weather runner, I am not keen on venturing outside into the wind, snow, or rain. This was one of the biggest reasons G and I decided to invest in a treadmill for daily usage.

Unfortunately, “daily” has not been the situation for me. Since last Monday I have been suffering from shin splint pain in both legs, whether on the treadmill or outdoors. Needless to say, I’ve been doing plenty of research on causes of the pain and what to do to help with recovery. I thought sharing some of my findings might be helpful for you as well, so today I’m going to focus on shin splints and preventative measures to take in regards to the treadmill.

Running on a treadmill burns calories, manages weight, improves cardiovascular health, and increase endurance. Running on a treadmill is a great workout, but it is a lot different from running outdoors. Unlike running outside where terrain is a constant variant, running on a treadmill if constant. Actually, a zero incline mimics a slight downgrade which ultimately creates extra stress on your legs. This downward running creates extra stress on the shin bones leading to shin splints.

“Shin splints” is a term referring to lower leg pain resulting from running. It is a non-specific diagnosis, but can involve your tibia, fibula, and the calf tissues and muscles surrounding them. Excessive force from working out causes the tissues or muscles to swell which increase pressure on the bones, leading to pain. Typically, shin splints stop once you stop moving, but if the pain continues after a few minutes of inactivity, you may have a stress fracture or something more serious. See a professional if this may be the case!

There are a number of contributing factors for shin splints caused while running on a treadmill. These include ill-fitting shoes, over-training, improper stretching, or poor running form. Certain precautions and preventive measures can minimize your risk of developing shin splints though.

Shin Splint Prevention on the Treadmill:

Get fitted for the correct running shoes. Have a favorite pair of running shoes? Unfortunately they may not be doing you any favors if they’re too old! I remember my coach telling me that the cushioning and support in running shoes gets exhausted every 300 miles.

This might mean you need to go buy a new pair. It is highly recommended to go to a technical running shoe store and be assessed by a professional on the correct running shoes for you. If you deal with overpronation (rolling your ankle inward) or supination (rolling your ankle outward), proper running shoes can help. Any runner can benefit from fitted running shoes due to significant strain on your lower body. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until my local running store reopens due to COVID-19 to have a professional fitting. When that day arrives, though, you best believe I’ll be waiting in line to get some new padding under my feet!

Practice warming up and gradually increasing miles/speed. It is ALWAYS good practice to begin your run with a brisk walk followed by a light jog. I aim for a 5 minute brisk walk before jumping into jogging and/or running. As the name suggests, this practice warms up your body and gets the blood flowing before you begin to intensify your workout.

Gradually increasing your number of miles covered is also important. If you’re new to running (like me!), easing your body into the sport by alternating run/walk intervals will allow you to increase your endurance, intensity, and frequency of runs in the long run. Patience is key!

Vary your incline setting. Since treadmills at zero incline mimic running downhill, it is recommended to always run with at least some incline when on the treadmill — at least 1% incline. Treadmill surfaces are consistent, so varying the incline will better simulate environmental factors of outdoor running.

Always consider your running technique. Shin splints may be caused by technique errors and bio-mechanical issues. Things like flat-footedness can cause muscles in your lower legs to over-stretch when you roll your ankle improperly in while you run. Overstriding can also contribute to shin splints — practice pushing off more with your back leg as you run on a treadmill.

Perform stretches directed at problem area(s). Toe raises and shin stretches can improve your flexibility and build your shin muscles to overcome splints. Find some shin stretches here on Very Well Fit.

I spoke with a running friend about shin stretches also. She suggested doing dynamic stretches 5-10 minutes prior to getting on the treadmill. A few stretches she practiced with me were ankle circles, toe curls, heel press-downs, and walking on tiptoes.

Work on strengthening your entire body. Strengthening your entire body will help with muscle imbalances that may cause a whole array of injuries, but when it comes to shin splints specifically focusing on calf and hip muscles is important.

Calf muscle strengthening can be done with calf raises. An exercise to strengthen the hip muscles is a lateral leg raise. Use a resistance band around your knees to increase results. Want a few more ideas? Runner’s World has great suggestions for exercises that may help prevent shin splints also.

Have you tried any other preventative steps for shin splints while running on a treadmill? I would love to hear more suggestions!

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