Beating Shin Splints

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Shin splints can be a massive pain in the butt or should I say lower leg? It can destroy any exercise program within a blink of an eye. You finally decide that you need to “step it up” and go for a run, and WHAM, the next morning you can barely walk. #motivationgone
Like anything todo with the human body, we have to treat it with respect. You can’t launch into a huge training program like a steam train and expect little consequence.

Why are shin splints painful?

The pain you are experiencing with shin splints is a result of fatigue and trauma to the muscles, and tendons attached to the bones in the lower limb. The bones of the lower limb are made up of the Tibia and Fibula. What you are experiencing are micro tears in the muscles, tendon and facia attached to the bone. Sometimes they even tear off the bone in worst case scenario.
Trust me when I say this is highly painful, I learnt my lesson the hard way. This same time last year, I became interested in the Bare Foot running phenomenon sweeping through the fitness industry. I was still managing a fitness club at the time with 10 personal trainers under my belt.  At the time I started to share workouts with one trainer who swore by the bare foot running shoes. I went in search of literature to see what all the fuss was about.
Now, I’m no expert in foot biomechanics so the research that I read seemed probable. That human’s should be able to run barefoot, like our cave man ancestors, that we should be running on our toes/ balls of our feet. Not thinking about the consequences, I just thought it’s just another running style.
Like anything else in training I thought it was a good idea to get used to it. So for 3 weeks I wore barefoot running shoes, which really were the consistency of socks. I used them to each my boxing and Zumba classes with no injury.  The only thing I noticed was the arches of my feet ached after 60min. Nothing major.
My fitness buddy and I decided to head out for a 5km run one afternoon, wearing our barefoot running “shoes”.We got to the 3km mark and my shins and calves were in so much pain. No more running for me for the next 2 months, in a quick 15minute session I managed to give myself shin splints!

Barefoot running can cause shin splints

Barefoot running shoes have no support. In my own personal example I ran on hard concrete, I didn’t build up the distance and by no means was my running style correct. According to a some further reading I did, the whole concept of running on the balls of our feet like our ancestors is incorrect. We have evolved now to be more flat foot in our stance. The heel strike style of running is far better for joints and causes less injury.
Secondly, I asked another friend Rebecca the owner of Footology a podiatrist practice on her view. Basically the foot needs support around the ankles for ankle and knee stability whilst running or else you risk things like rolling ankle and poor knee tracking. In an effort to keep the foot, ankle and lower leg stable, the muscles exert a great force on the tibia and fibula. This excessive force can result in the tendons and fascia being partially torn away from the bone. This causes shin splints, oh and can also be the cause of fallen arches.

Now you have shin splints what do you do?

Initially, when shin splints first occur follow first aid principles to reduce inflammation in the area. Apply Ice, rest, compress and elevate. Then go see a physio for heat and massage treatment after 48hours. Nice and simple.

Take heed before you run again

After the initial recovery 1-2 weeks of resting, take precautions when you decide to start up again:

1. Get the right advice

Purchase better footwear to reduce impact and foot instability. Get advice from a podiatrist on which shoes are best for your type of foot. Did you know sneakers are designed not only for colours and fancy looks but also for exercise purpose? Yes running shoes are different to cross trainers and are different to tennis shoes. They are designed in a certain way to help you keep the right amount of foot support for that particular exercise. Running shoes point at the front and are lighter in weight. Cross trainers have higher ankle support and are wider, rounder at the front of the shoe to cater for lateral movement. Get the right shoes for the right occasion.

2. Have your foot-strike analysed by a podiatrist

A podiatrist will be able to also tell you if you need orthotics or not. Orthotics are rubber inserts that fit into your shoe to position and support your foot better. A lot of people experience pain on running either in the knees or feet, this is not normal, don’t ignore it.

3. Do a 5min warm up of stretching and slower walking

This is to help prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity to come. Warm ups prime the muscles to fire in the right direction.

4.  Keep your muscles flexible by stretching

Stretch before and after your workouts. The stretching will also help reduce tendon stiffness. Being flexible helps reduce injury and improves joint mobility all of which is conducive for better running.

5. Perform strengthening exercises for the lower leg

Again this is getting the muscles in the lower leg stronger to be able to resist high impact loads. This may include calve raises.

6. Avoid exercising on hard surfaces

Exercising on concrete is not a good idea when you are recovering from shin splints, at least till you have built up your leg strength and flexibility. I admit I only run on concrete foot paths, because I hate dirty sneakers and running uneven surfaces.

 7. Avoid exercising on uneven ground.

This is to prevent excessive rolling of ankles and knee twisting.

8. Avoid lengthy workouts after a long period of rest.

Build up time slowly. Like anything you need to build it up and practice good technique. Your body needs to build resilience and adapt to the stimulus you’re throwing at it. This takes time.
That’s my FYI piece on shin splints; do you have a bad running experience you want to share?
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