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The question: I used to run. I am trying to start again but I keep getting shin splints. What can I do?

The answer: Shin splints are an irritation of the muscle between the two bones of the lower leg. They are usually a result of overtraining, increasing speed or distance too quickly, or a biomechanical problem which causes a flawed running gait.

Do not attempt to achieve your former speed or distance right away. You are older, and no longer in "running shape." Your connective tissue isn't used to the demands that running puts on the body.

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Try to sandwich walking breaks in between bouts of running. Start by running four minutes and walking one minute. Slowly progress until you can do three sets of running for 10 minutes, walking for one minute.

Only run twice a week, on non-consecutive days. Try to vary your running surfaces. In addition, cross train. Try pool running – it mimics the motion of running without the stress on your joints.

Do a thorough warm-up that incorporates walking or running backward. Moving backward will challenge your nervous system and counteracts muscle imbalances that running may have caused. Start by walking backward for 15 seconds. When comfortable, increase the duration or try jogging backward. At the end of your run, remember to do a significant cool down.

Strength training is also key. Your gluteus medius (the bum muscle that runs up the side of your hip) is a particularly important muscle for runners to strengthen. Try walking sideways with a thera-band wrapped around your ankles. Initiate the movement by leading with your hips, not your foot.

Make sure you are wearing appropriate shoes, and that they are in good condition.

Schedule an appointment with a medical professional to double-check that what you are experiencing is actually shin splints, and not something more serious.

Trainer's tip

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Plan your runs like a "newbie runner," not a "former runner." Changing your mindset like that will help you give yourself permission to progress more gradually. And you can be excited every time you hit a "new" running milestone.

Send certified personal trainer Kathleen Trotter your questions at trainer@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in the Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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