One way to stop a runner in her tracks: shin splits. Trust me, I know. As a former Division 1 All-American sprinter, I’ve experienced that annoying pain in my shins—caused by inflammation of the muscles or tendons around the shinbone—one time too many. For me it felt like a thousand needles were being jammed into my shins, which, as you can imagine, is quite unpleasant. And I'm not alone, research shows that up to 20% of runners experience shin splints.
Feeling a similar twinge? You may want to press pause on your running for a bit—or at the very least cut back on your mileage until that aching subsides. Icing the area is also a good idea. If the pain persists, it might mean you have a stress fracture; see a doc to rule that out.
Haven't been saddled with the “S” word yet? Lucky you. Stay healthy with these four tips.
Replace your shoes
Chances are, you’ve been wearing the same pair of runners for the past two years (admit it!), and that is a big no-no. You should aim to replace your shoes every 300 to 500 miles, or every six months. This will help ensure you have enough cushion and support in those kicks to keep you running comfy and safely. A good way to spot shoddy, worn-out shoes: visual wear and tear on the tread.
Build your mileage gradually
New to running? Don’t take on too many miles in the early stages. You need to allow some time for your muscles to adapt and recover from the demands you are placing on them. Instead, build gradually. While it is not a hard-and fast-rule, an often-followed model is to add no more than 10% per week to your total weekly mileage.
Mix up your training
Shin splits is an overuse injury, so if all you are doing day in and day out is running, you are leaving yourself wide open for injury. Consider trading one to two pavement pounding sessions with something a little more low-impact, like swimming. Your body will thank you.
Grab a foam roller or a lacrosse ball and get your roll on, paying attention to not just your shins, but your calves and feet as well; tightness in these areas can be a culprit behind shin splints. You might also consider adding toe raises and heel drops to your workout routine, both of which strengthen and stretch the lower leg. (Click here to see how to do heel drops.) My recommendation is to work this type of recovery into your regimen before the pain kicks in. Think prehab, not rehab.
Tamara Pridgett is a former All-American sprinter from The University of Arizona and a NASM certified personal trainer. She currently resides in New York City.
This article was originally published on Health.com.