Question: I walk a lot but when I hike or power walk, shinsplints slow me down. Although stretching is part of my workout routine, as I increase my distance, the pain gets worse. Do you have some exercises for the shin muscles on the front of my legs?
Answer: "Shinsplints" can mean any pain around the front, inner or outer lower leg. This type of condition, usually occurring among distance runners and walkers, is the result of the pounding of your legs against the pavement. The increasing pressure in the anterior compartment muscles in the leg (the outer front muscles) after they become engorged with blood during exercise results in very small tears in the leg muscles at their point of attachment to the shin. I suffered with shinsplints in college from running on concrete instead of the track, and they were most uncomfortable (you already knew that).
Often shinsplints can be remedied with a few adjustments. For example, try changing your athletic shoes, adding orthotics, altering your activity (cross-training) or taking anti-inflammatory medication prescribed or recommended by your doctor. (A diagnosis is important because, left untreated, the condition can become disabling.) If you decide to cross-train, try activities such as cycling or swimming, in which you don't put much stress on your shins. Also, you may want to consider incorporating weight training into your fitness regiment so you can strengthen your calf muscles.
Warming up goes a long way in preventing the pain. And it's important to know that the muscles affected are most active during heel strike, so avoid going down hills at a high rate of speed. Ice and massage can help too.
As for stretching exercises, try this one: Flex your knee, grabbing your ankle with the same arm, and with the other arm, slowly pull your foot up and in to stretch those muscles.
Stephanie Oakes is the fitness correspondent for Discovery Health Channel and a health/fitness consultant. Send questions by e-mail to: email@example.com. She cannot respond to every query.