If you are a runner, you would be no stranger to the painful Shin Splits. This is a common overuse injury that most runners dread, which results from excessive stress on tendons in the shin area, brought on by inflexible calf muscles.
So how to prevent them, treat them and keep them from wrecking havoc on our running schedule?
Why Are Running and Shin Splits Correlated?
To begin with, let’s understand why runners are so prone to shin splits. As mentioned above, the most common cause is stress on calf and shin tendons that can be strained or even torn.
Fact is that overpronation can aggravate shin splits, which is why it’s important to buy good running shoes. Also, running on hard surfaces adds more stress to muscles that haven’t been stretched in the same way before.
Especially beginners who try to increase mileage on a hard surface too fast are bound to stress their muscles and suffer from shin splits.
Professionals call it ‘Tendinitis of the lower leg’ or ‘medial tibial stress syndrome’, as the discomfort is the result of inflamed tendons in the lower leg, on the front side. But don’t be foolish enough to think that Shin splits are only a beginner’s injury; they are just as common in runners who over-train.
Running for too long without adequate rests, weak calf muscles and improper biometrics are all contributing factors.
For most runners, the only way to treat shin splits is to rest the leg, use ice packs to bring down the inflammation, and perform light stretching and strengthening exercises of the surrounding muscles, along a big dose of anti-inflammatory medication. But is there a way to prevent shin splits?
Preventing Shin Splits
Increasing running speeds dramatically or running on concrete surfaces where the foot doesn’t get adequate shock absorption increases your risk factor.
Be Careful About the Running Surface
It’s best to always run on a soft surface. Jogging tracks at parks, grass surface or even carpeted surfaces are best. However, if you do need to make the shift from a soft surface to a hard surface, give your muscles the time to adjust to the change.
Reduce the miles you run initially and increase the pace gradually, so that the muscles have adequate time to make adjustments rather than stressing them. The change of surface will also make your muscles feel sore; so make sure you give them adequate recovery time and don’t go overboard right away.
Be Aware of Biomechanical Issues
More often than not, shin splits are caused by poor biomechanics. An incorrect running stride can overextend the tibialis anterior muscle and accompanying tendons, which causes stress. To reduce the pull on the muscle, always take smaller strides.
Also, those who have tendency of pronating the foot and letting it roll inwards excessively to create an arch are more at risk.
And so are runners with weak calf and ankle muscles or tight Achilles tendons. A good stretching routine and lower leg strengthening exercises can correct these biomechanical issues and reduce risk of injury when running.
Be Cautious When You Choose Running Shoes
Not all running shoes you come across are created equal, as every runner must address his or her individual needs. Choose running shoes designed to correct biomechanical issues after carefully evaluating your stride. Check your used shoes; are they worn out towards the inside which means your feet overpronate?
Don’t buy online; rather buy your running shoes at a store with knowledgeable staff that can help you pick the best design and shape based on your needs. Some shoes come with extra cushioning pads along with motion control/stability features which could be better suited to you. Also, never wear over-used and worn out shoes but keep changing them often.
When shoe shopping, bring along the socks you will use with the shoes so that you buy a comfortable size. Even if you know your shoe size, get both your feet measured by the salesperson. Often times, one foot is slightly larger than the other, and its best to buy a bigger size and then use a shoe insert for the other foot to have both your shoes fit perfectly.
Be Open to Trying Orthotics
If after all these cautious measures you still find yourself missing runs because of shin-splits, it is possible that the culprit is incorrect foot mechanics. You don’t have to worry about giving up running yet; instead see a doctor who can recommend custom fitted shoe inserts that are anatomically molded to correct the alignment of your foot and bring it to a neutral, natural position.
Try These Exercises Too
Make sure you add them to your warm-up stretching routine.
- Keep your heels together, toes pointed outwards. Slowly raise your body on your toes, keeping the entire leg straight and stretch the muscles. Hold for a few seconds, and then lower your body back to take your entire weight on the whole foot. Repeat for about 10-15 times to stretch all leg muscles and warm them up.
- Bring your toes together and tilt your foot at an angle so that the heels go as far apart as possible. Be slow and gentle and raise your body on the toes, keeping the entire leg straight and stretch the muscles. Hold for a few seconds, and then lower your body back to take your entire weight on the whole foot. Repeat for about 10-15 times.