…or not as the case may be.
The term ‘shin splints’ seems to be a catch-all term for any type of pain in the general shin area. I’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer from ‘shin splints’ twice now, the first time keeping me out for around six months and the second for around three weeks. I carried forward some of the things that I found helped the first time round to my most recent bout, and I believe that helped me get back out much quicker the second time round.
So, with that in mind, I’ve listed some of those lessons learnt below in the hope that, someone, somewhere, can make use of them and potentially help them (you) on the road to recovery quicker. Of course, the usual disclaimer applies. I’m no professional and certainly not a doctor or physio. Any medical advice should trump the below, but I just wanted to share my own experience…
First step – stop running
Sensible part to begin with. Certainly not what we want to hear as runners and, if I’m being completely honest, not something that I have always adhered to. However, if an act causes you pain, you should not really continue. The same can be said for when you are returning from injury. If the pain returns, more rest or taking it more gently is required. Overdoing will not help and could create greater problems in the long run, which brings me on to point two.
As mentioned, shin splints is a term that is used to describe any pain in the area. It’s medical name is tibial stress syndrome/compartment syndrome, anterior for the outside of the shin and medial for the inside. I won’t go into more detail than this here, but a quick Google search will give you a good indication of exactly what is happening in both cases. If you are suffering with shin pain, this is what you want it to be, because the alternative is a stress fracture in the bone itself, which will keep you out of action for far longer than muscle trouble. If basic shin splints is left untreated and you continue running through the pain, you risk it developing into a stress fracture, which is why taking it easy is always beneficial in the long run. An x-ray would be able to pick up a stress fracture.
Check your shoes
I must admit, I do get a bit frustrated by many, often non-runners, claim that “it’s the shoes” whenever you describe an injury to them. However, once you’ve hopefully ruled out a stress fracture, a good place to start would be with your shoes. First question should be how many miles have they done? Really, a pair of running trainers should last 400-500 miles, depending on the type of shoe and your running style. In both of my cases mentioned above, my trainers had done just over 300 miles. The first time round I proceeded with the same pair for a few months before replacing them. After all, 300 miles should not signal the supportive end of a pair of trainers. However, once I did replace them, the pain started to improve. This was most likely because the change was coupled with a number of other factors but, the second time round, one of the first things I did was order a new pair. Coincidental maybe, but both times a change in footwear sparked the road to recovery.
Another shoe related question that you may wish to ask yourself, is are you wearing the right pair? I have flat arches and so should really run in stability running trainers, which help prevent over-pronation. In my research though (I do tend to do a lot of reading on different styles of running), this could result in over-compensation, not allowing the foot to complete its natural movement during the gait cycle, increasing stress in other areas. Although not having done it yet myself, I would recommend visiting a specialist running store that will analyse your gait and give you expert advice on what type of trainer you should be running in.
Check your blind spot
It’s quite natural to concentrate on the area of pain when it comes to an injury, but often it’s due to a weakness elsewhere that causes the issue. Again, in both of my experiences, the shin troubles have surfaced shortly after a bout of calf issues. In this case, whilst your nurturing your shin, it’s a good idea to also look after the calf. Foam rolling, stretches and calf raises were some of the exercises recommended to me by a physio that I saw on the first occasion.
As a general point, strength and conditioning work, along with sufficient pre-workout warm ups and post-workout stretching will help in the prevention of all injuries, not just shin splints. A particular area to work on for shin splints is balance work. This was pointed out to me during my physio sessions. Core work, single leg squats and simple balancing on one leg translate into better form when running.
Elevating the leg and applying ice will help reduce inflammation. Icing is recommended for 15 minutes, three times per day. Another recommendation from the physio, and an alternative to the 15 minutes, was to massage a single ice cube over the affected area, in a circular motion until the cube has completely melted.
Doing too much too soon
Often thought to be the ONLY cause of shin splints, although it features further down on my list for a reason. My most recent injury was not due to doing too much too soon, despite the immediate diagnosis of others. In fact, I was coming down on weekly mileage when it initially happened. However, upping your mileage and/or intensity from one week to the next could cause a number of issues, shin splints being just one of them. The general recommendation seems to be a weekly mileage increase of no more than 10%, and to never increase both mileage and intensity at the same time. I’ve often gone over the recommended 10% increase and been fine, although I’m certainly not going to recommend it here.
Vary the terrain
Another thing you can do to reduce the risk of picking up shin splints, is to avoid doing all of your running on pavement. Running is a repetitive motion and too much strain could cause muscle issues. Taking in some grass, mud or trail running can help with the repetitiveness.
The main point that I’d like taken from this is that rest is key. You can maintain fitness by cross training – cycling, swimming etc. but refraining from running through the pain will help you in the long run. Then, when it does come to the point where you’re running pain-free again, take it easy, don’t return straight to the mileage that you were completing pre-injury. Build slowly and you will be back to your best soon enough.
If you’ve had shin splints in the past and have found anything other than what’s in the list above that has helped, please share and I will update with any further recommendations. After all, this an article designed to help fellow runners prevent, and/or overcome a rather painful injury. Any further advice would be greatly received by all.