How To Prevent and Treat Shin Splints
Shin splints, or tibial stress syndrome, is one the most common running injuries that plague the population with 3 million cases in the US each year. Seasoned runners will refer to them as the “too much too soon” injury. The pain tends to target in the lower leg area somewhere between the ankle and knee. Shin splints can be a quick nuisance or a chronic problem depending on the person and the cause. So, now that we’ve gained a brief understanding of what a shin splint is, let’s talk about a few tips on prevention followed by a few treatment options if the pain occurs in your own running career.
Technique Is Everything
Sometimes the most minor change in our technique can have the largest impact in our running. One of the most apparently noticeable yet critically required changes that aids in the prevention of shin splints is through the elimination of the heal strike. Keeping those heals flat will instantly reduce the amount of shock on a runners leg. This is because by landing mid-foot you are no longer reaching forward with your legs.
So what’s the best way to eliminate heal striking? Try ChiRunning. This technique of running encourages the body to lean forward allowing your feet to land underneath the body instead of in front, naturally reducing your stride length in the process. From landing mid-foot the heal strike will be eliminated for good. So pick up a book on ChiRunning or watch a few videos online. There are many aspects to ChiRunning so beware of over complication. I’m no guru of the technique, however, I have some experience in learning ChiRunning. My advice is to pick just one change in your technique to work on per week, learn it, practice it, and move on to the next. Your shins may depend on it and it also helps with other chronic issues like runners’ knee and ITBS.
Running Surface Is Important Too!
My advice can be said in two words: NO TREADMILL. Need I say more? Anytime I’ve had a shin splint, all breadcrumbs have led back to a treadmill. Why does the treadmill cause shin splints? The fact is that the treadmill moves for you, which creates an accelerated motion that actually triggers a slightly downhill force on the body and thus, putting more stress on the shinbone. Furthermore, the treadmill is a constant. So unless stride timing is perfect, you risk stretching your stride and putting even more pressure on your shins. Yes, I know, treadmills receive a bad rap, and I do use them from time to time for incline training. I’ve even run a full marathon on one. But, as a dedicated ultra runner, frequent racing and longevity in the sport are important too me. I believe that staying off the treadmill has contributed to that.
Roll It Over
If you’ve read any of my articles on injuries, then you know I believe in the benefits of using a foam roller. As much as treadmills have made a negative impact in my earliest days as a runner, I can confidently say a foam roller has certainly made a positive impact in training for ultras. For shin splints, using the foam roller to loosen up the fascia is critical to prevention and recovery. Just roll your shins and calves on the foam roller a few times a day tapering off as the pain dissipates.
Cup Of Ice
Although I am a big advocate of the foam roller, for most common running injuries, like shin splints, I’d put the cup of ice massage on the top of my list. Shin splits can easily be treated with two simple ingredients: ice and a paper cup. All you need to do is freeze water in a paper cup and firmly massage the shin. Remember, use a paper cup, this way as the ice melts you can rip sections off the cup to compensate for the recess created. Massage the shin for approximately 20 minutes or until all the ice melts, press frequently and press firmly.
Tape It Up
Don’t want to sit on the sidelines on race day? A runner may be able to get by with an athletic tape treatment. There are several different techniques all in which can be found online in video format. I’ve tapped up for a 50k race in the past and was fortunate enough to get by without too much discomfort.
Visit The Doctor
I always say if something doesn’t feel right, then, chances are it’s probably not. Shin splints can be muscle related or bone related. If a runner is dealing with a bone related shin splint injury, a doctor visit may be required. This will allow for a proper diagnosis to rule out any type of stress fractures. But, if struck by the bad news bear, take advantage of the forced timed off and explore the depths of biking and swimming. Who knows, maybe the injury can lead to your first triathlon! When life gives you lemons, whip up that sweet lemonade and keep moving forward.
Shin splints can be frustrating, excessive, and painful. But, fortunately, they can also be prevented, treated and cured. As runners we all have our good days and we all have our not so good days. So, when those bad days strike and throw a little adversity your way, like a shin splint, try your best to learn from it, grow from it, and ultimately heal from it. With this guide one can get back to running quickly and find oneself on the starting line ready to tackle the next big race while preventing any future shin splints in the process.