Prone to shin splints?

Dear Lucy: How can I prevent shin splints from running? I understand “pronators” are particularly subject to this problem. Are there special shoes I should buy? —Pain In The Shins

Dear P.I.T.S.: Lucy feels your pain. Shin splints—a sometimes excruciating pain along the inner part of the shinbone, or tibia, the large bone in the front of your lower leg—seems like a terribly unfair punishment for someone trying to get in shape by beginning a running program. Anxious to know the answer to your question, Lucy turned to MIT Medical physician and sports medicine specialist Shawn Ferullo.

According to Ferullo, who is also head team physician for MIT’s interscholastic sports teams, there are two keys to shin-splint prevention. First, since shin splints often result from muscle strain and tightness, regular stretching of the leg muscles, particularly calf muscles, is crucial.  This can be accomplished with standard stretches of the calf muscles and or foam rolling the lower legs and calf muscles.

Second, as you guessed, proper footwear is crucial. “Be sure to have a good pair of running shoes that are not too old or worn out,” Ferullo advises. Typically, running shoes are good for 300–500 miles and can loose their support after that mileage is exceeded.  “Over-pronators—individuals whose feet roll inward more than the normal amount with each stride—can try a pronation- or stability-control shoe to give added support to the arch and alleviate the strain on the inner muscles of the lower legs. If that isn’t sufficient, a shoe insert or arch support may be necessary.”

To find the right shoe, Ferullo advises going to a store that specializes in running shoes and whose staff is trained to evaluate each individual’s foot and can fit you with the correct type of shoe. When it comes to arch supports, Ferullo notes that “there are many over-the-counter brands that work very well for most people with mildly flat but flexible feet. It’s also possible to get custom molded arch supports, but they tend to be more expensive and require a visit to a foot specialist.”

With any luck, these suggestions will help you find a solution that works, but if not, Lucy reminds you that MIT Medical is here not only when you are sick, but also when you need help staying healthy and injury free. To that end, Ferullo suggests talking with your primary care provider about a referral to MIT Medical’s Orthopedic Service. “We’re often able to review foot mechanics and help patients make decisions,” he says. 

Happy trails! —Lucy

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