Let’s face it, no type of injury is fun. But there’s something particularly frustrating about being struck with a case of shin splints. Maybe it’s the fact that it comes just when we are feeling at our most ambitious, or maybe it’s because it sends us a menacing, mean little reminder every step we take. Either way, shin splints are a pain. In the lower leg, to be precise. Let’s look at ways we can best avoid this nasty little hindrance.
As with most injuries, jumping in ‘boots first’ and training hard may end in tears. Don’t run too much too soon. Increase your running/walking time slowly. You must break yourself into your routine gently. If you’re a runner and are getting back into things, start with a walk/run combination and rest every second day. So how fast can you improve? According to Keith Jeffers, D.C., C.C.S.P., head of a well known chiropractic and sports injury clinic in San Diego, U.S.A., 10 is the magic number. You should increase your walking distance by only 10% each week. In this time, you can also increase your run to walk ratio by 10%.
There’s no need to sit on the couch when you’re not running. Jump in the pool, go cycling, rowing or do a weights session at the gym. Cross-training will improve your cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and flexibility. Instead of running every day, try a 3+2 program. Recommended by Bill Pierce, Professor and Chair of Health Sciences at Furman University and lead author of Runner’s World ‘Run Less, Run Faster,’ the three runs and two cross-training sessions gives you five cardiovascular workouts per week.
Strike with the midfoot
The way you run can vastly affect your predisposition towards this painful condition. Avoid heel striking as this tends to cause the foot to slap down on the pavement, stretching your shin muscles and increasing their workload in an attempt to slow you down. Alternatively, striking too far on the toes will stretch the calf muscle, further aggravating your lower compartments. Instead, aim for a flat, mid-foot landing.
Take shorter strides
It is recommended by many that when returning to running, shorter strides will reduce the potential for shin splints. Don’t feel this means that you have to train like a ‘lightweight’. Plenty of research shows that runners become faster the more the stride shortens. So to gain more biomechanical efficiency, increase the amount of strides you take per minute. It will make you a better runner and decrease the chance of injury.
Wear a supportive shoe
If your feet are prone to rolling or overpronation, this may make you more susceptible to shin splints. Try a shoe with good stability, or a good neutral shoe without excessive cushioning. If you’re unsure of which shoe to purchase, go to a reputable running store with experienced staff that can help you choose the right shoe for your feet – and any identified biomechanical problems.
Diagnosis: is it shin splints?
Shin splints are fairly easy to diagnose. There will be pain and tenderness in the area between your knee and your ankle. The pain may disappear slightly when you run, only to return when you have finished exercising. You cannot ignore shin splints though. If left to worsen, the pressure built up by the muscles in your lower compartment can make the shin bone prone to stress fractures.
Cutting back on running
A case of shin splints needn’t mean that you completely quit all running activity. The rate you decrease your activity will depend on the severity of your injury, but generally speaking you will need to reduce the frequency and distance of your running workouts. Make sure you stay below the threshold of pain. You can either allow for a few days or train very gently on soft surfaces. This is a good time to amp up your cross-training activities such as water running, cycling or swimming. A good rule of thumb is to run half the distance you had run before your shin splints started while increasing your amount of walking time. If the pain does not disappear, give your running a rest for one to two weeks before slowly resuming again.
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