Shin Splints

1 Sep

Q: Would dearly love to know what @gritdoctor has to say about crippling shin splints! #motivate

A: Well, Em, I reckon shin splints are the most common running injury, so you are in good company. They can particularly affect those starting out or newish to longer distance running, when your calf muscles are not yet used to the pounding, and that dull ache you are experiencing in your lower legs is most likely the result of medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) caused by frequent and intense periods of exercise that your body is unused to. MTSS is thought to occur when the layer of connective tissue that covers the surface of the shin bone (periosteum) becomes inflamed. Shin Splints are most likely to affect new runners and those who increase speed and/or distances too quickly, I’m not sure Em which category you fall into.
Runners at risk of developing shin splints other than newcomers to the sport, are those who run on concrete or other equally unforgiving hard surfaces, up steep hills (especially if you are lugging around extra weight), and runners with weak ankles, tight calf muscles or tight Achilles tendons (the band of tissue connecting the heel bone to the calf muscle). If you suffer from overpronation (excessive rolling of the foot) or flat feet, this may also aggravate the problem and put you at a greater risk of developing shin splints. All of the above can and do happen to runners of all ages.
What can you do about it?
1. Stop running for two weeks and do lower impact sports instead: yoga, swimming, cross-training or walking . If you have been ‘gritting it out’ and running in spite of the shin splints, apply an ice pack (just wrap frozen peas in a tea-towel) immediately after your run to help relieve the pain and/or use over the counter paracetomol or ibuprofen-based painkillers. Make that your last run for a fortnight.
2. Make sure you are wearing the right shoes. If prone to shin splints, you really do need to invest in a pair of proper running shoes. By ‘proper’ I mean a pair bought from a specialist running shop. It is vital that your running shoes provide sufficient cushioning and support for your weight and foot type. So, if you haven’t already done so, get yourself to a specialist running shop and have your gait analysed and a trained member of staff help you to choose the right shoes.
[If you continue having problems and think your shoes may be the cause, see a podiatrist (aka a foot specialist) who will be able to look at your overall lower limb biomechanics. They may well recommend orthotics (special shoe inserts) which will help guard against shin splints]
If the pain does not improve dramatically after two weeks rest, please see your GP so they can rule out other possible causes of the pain, including but not exclusive to: reduced blood supply to the lower leg (smokers are at greater risk of this); stress fractures and muscle hernias; ‘compartment syndrome’ (swelling of the leg muscle such that the surrounding nerves and blood vessels become overly compressed); or a nerve problem in your lower back (radiculopathy). In your case Em, I am hopeful that any of the above are extremely unlikely and so, assuming that your shins do recover in a fortnight and you are keen to get back out running, make sure you do the following – in your properly fitting specialist running shoes of course:
●Run on a flat, soft surface, such as a playing field;
●Go easy on your first outing, slower than before and over a shorter distance;
●Increase the distance you run very slowly after a few weeks back running and don’t attempt to speed up until 6 weeks and then only very gradually;
●Work on improving your overall strength and flexibility (cross training and core strength training will help with this). Specifically, strengthen your lower leg with this simple exercise: Sit on a chair and loop a weight around your foot (a jar full of coins would do fine), then move your foot up and down from the ankle (so you are using your ankle and not your leg to generate the lifting action).


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