Dealing with the Pain of Shin Splintsby allylofgren | 6 Comments
The term “shin splints” gets tossed around a lot among athletes. What exactly are shin splints, what causes them and how can you alleviate them if you already are affected by them?
Shin splints are not caused by one thing because they are actually a symptom of deeper issues and are not a medical condition. The term shin splint generally refers to achiness and/or acute pain in the front side of your tibia (shin bone) while your foot is dorsiflexed (your foot is flexed). Depending on the person, the pain may be during exercise, immediately following exercise or even all the time. This pain and/or discomfort can be caused by a variety of things. This post will cover the most common causes of shin splints and how you can resolve them.
First things first, if you are experiencing pain all the time from your shin splints, it is time to stop exercising immediately and go to the doctor. You may have stress fractures. Do not wait to have this condition examined. Too many athletes have bought into the “no pain, no gain” myth. This belief can set you back a long time if you do not allow yourself to heal.
If you are affected by shin splints that kick in during or immediately following your workouts but mostly go away during daily life, your pain is probably caused by different combinations of too much stress placed upon your tibia and the connective tissue that attaches the muscles of the shin, tibialis anterior and peroneals, to the tibia. This stress causes the inflammation, pain, and tenderness that are labeled shin splints.
The following list contains the usual suspects in most cases of shin splints. The good news is that everything on this list is fairly easily remedied! Your cause can include all or some of them:
- Running on hard surfaces
- Lack of supportive foot wear
- Excessive pronation (flat feet or stiff arches that make your feet roll too far inward while running)
- Rapid increase in training volume and intensity
Now that you know what is causing your pain, here are some easily employed solutions:
Find a softer surface
If you are running on an asphalt running path, run on the grass on the side of it. Additionally, many parks and forest preserves have crushed limestone paths, which are perfect for running. These paths provide the give that will help you avoid excessively high impact.
Invest in the proper footwear
Most shoe manufacturers recommend replacing your running shoes every 300-500 miles. The shoes may seem expensive but think of it as an investment in your health and long-term running career. Additionally, there are shoes for people who pronate that can give your arch the support it needs. Some people may need even more support and that can be provided by over-the-counter insoles sold at most specialty running stores. If the problem persists, you may need custom orthotics that will allow you to run pain free. Your doctor can refer you to a podiatrist who can make orthotics for you.
Stretch and strengthen those muscles!
- Alphabets: Stand on one foot, lift up the other foot and “write” the alphabet acting as if your big toe was the pen. It does not matter if you print or write cursive. When you are done, switch feet.
- Pick up! My dog, Pickles, throws her kibble around the floor when she eats. To strengthen my tibialis anterior and clean my home, I pick her chow up with my toes and drop it into her bowl! If you do not have a messy pet, you can pick up marbles or even towels with your toes.
Take it easy
Oh if only it were that easy!!! The most common cause of shin splints is too much too soon. It is one of the hardest things to actually address if you are a runner. I have never met a runner who doesn’t have a Type A personality. Oh we protest and say we are so relaxed and easy going, but whom are we kidding? We wake up at the crack of dawn (or before) to go outside and run while the rest of the world is fast asleep. I know plenty of people who think I am completely nuts, and I agree. Here are some suggestions on how to rest and ease into your routine:
- Warm up. Start your run slowly and gradually increase to your training pace over a 5 to 10-minute period.
- Ice is your friend! Ice immediately following your run for 10-20 minutes. It will naturally reduce the inflammation.
- Elevate your ankle. Put your affected ankle on the arm of your couch and get others to wait on you while you ice!
- Less is more. Do not increase your speed or volume of training more than 10% over one week. Additionally, train at a lower speed and distance at least once a week. Your body will recover and respond by making you faster and stronger in the weeks that follow.
- Cross train. Swimming, elliptical, and biking are all great ways to cardiovascularly train that will ease your shin splints.
In closing, do not be discouraged if you encounter shin splints along the way. They are the proverbial bump in the road! According to webmd.com, they are the most common running-related health issue. Dealt with in a timely manner, you will feel better very soon.