Shin pains from walking?

Dear Alice,

I walk to campus everyday, sometimes going back and forth twice. I never really feel "fatigue" per se, but I've been having a lot of pain in my shins while walking. It subsides after a few minutes of sitting, and it doesn't happen while walking around campus, up stairs, etc. I do have flat feet, and apparently when I was younger I had a brace on my feet. I have never had this problem before, however. I haven't been doing anything unusual, either (except for walking up to school and back since this fall began.). What could this possibly mean?

— Sens-a-Shins

Dear Sens-a-Shins, 

Ouch! Walking on pavement increases the stress on your joints and connective tissue, and one possibility for what you're describing may be a case of shin splints. This condition causes inflammation of the muscle or tendons of the lower leg caused by repetitive walking, running, or even dancing on a hard surface. The symptoms are pain on the inner side of the shin bone (tibia) in the front part of the leg. Sometimes, it comes on very slowly and eventually becomes quite severe. However, shin splints rarely result in permanent damage. To learn more about treatment and flexibility exercises, keep on reading!

In terms of treatment, resting and applying ice to your shins for 15 to 20 minutes can be highly effective. Moreover, you can also try taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to help reduce the pain and swelling. It might also be helpful to try and take the bus or train to school for a week so that you can let your shins rest. Additionally, when you decide you want to get back into the swing of things, wearing supportive shoes when you walk and stretching your legs before you are up and about can help prevent the problem from getting worse or recurring. When choosing shoes, you can try looking for ones that have a shape that corresponds to the shape of your foot, without areas of pressure or pain, or a feeling of binding. Furthermore, since you mentioned how you have flat feet, you might want to also look into purchasing some arch supports or shock-absorbing insoles. These have also been shown to help prevent shin splints from reoccurring. If you don’t know which brand or style to buy, you could try soliciting advice from friends or from a few specialty stores about what brands and styles are best. 

In addition, there are several flexibility exercises that can help reduce muscle soreness and the chance of injury. One example of a simple exercise that can help with shin splints is the sitting heel-cord stretch. For this stretch, you sit on the floor with one leg extended and the opposite leg bent with the foot against the inside of the thigh. Then, you hook a towel around the ball of the foot and pull the toes towards the knee. Keep your knee straight and hold for about 15 to 30 seconds. If you’re looking for more exercises to help with pain in your shins, Tufts Medical Center outlines some additional stretches you could try.  

Walking can be an excellent form of aerobic activity, and it strengthens the muscles in your legs. Therefore, it’s wise to try to treat your walks as you would any other form of physical activity, as well as trying to use the proper equipment and attempting to stretch before and after. Hopefully these tips will help alleviate your pain! If the pain or discomfort persists, you may want to speak with a health care professional who could provide additional guidance.

Last updated Jun 11, 2021
Originally published Dec 01, 1993

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