Shin splints seem to occur with everyone at one time or another. I believe shin splints are preventable, however, people don’t usually realize this until it’s too late.
If you’re already experiencing shin splints, know the same measures taken for prevention, can also help speed your recovery.
SHIN SPLINT PREVENTATION / HEALING
1. BE AWARE OF YOUR TRAINING - DO NOT TRAIN AIMLESSLY
In other words, if you’re going to run all week, plan your runs. This means planning the distance, routes, intensity, and type of run. Also note the various surfaces you’ll be running on. Be aware of distances in both uphill and downhill, as well. Look over the week and be sure everything pans out. If you notice you’re running on a surface such as concrete or asphalt most of the time, you might want to vary it up and find a gravel path, track, or even grass, for various sections of your run. Hard surfaces can cause too much jarring, especially at long distances, and/or when fatigue sets in. Many runners once fatigued get become heavy footed, this puts the impact on the joints. Staying ‘light on your feet’, such as landing with control as a ballerina, moves the impact to the muscles. This is where many fall short, as their muscles fatigue they unknowingly begin transferring the impact to their joints. Hard surfaces multiply the impact.
2. BE AWARE OF YOUR TRAINING SCHEDULE
Pay attention to the hours you’re putting in. Log intensity, days you did sprints, biked, hiked, climbed, etc. Be sure to spread out activities according to your training level and knowledge. Be aware of the signs of overtraining. Be aware of attempting too much, too soon. If you’re going to partner up or work as a team, be sure you’re a compatible fit, and the work is split according to athletic ability.
3. KNOW THYSELF
If you’re feeling ill, overtired, or just plain stressed out, use caution when exercising. It’s easy to become lax during these times, and loose attention to form, technique, detail, even breathing, which can lead to injuries faster than anything else. If you’re a runner and shin splints are a constant, have a Pro take a look at your stride, how your feet hit the pavement, follow through, and form. Remember to stay light on the feet, and stay in tune to the muscles working, and their level of fatigue.
4. GOOD SHOES
Good shoes are a must. Just because shoes look like new on the outside doesn’t mean they haven’t seen their days. Make note of when you began using a pair of shoes, and keep a general log on the number of hours/miles you’ve put on them. Replace every 500-600 miles. Better yet, have several pairs of shoes, and rotate through them. Consider adding inserts if you can’t afford a new pair quite yet, as it can buy you some time, just be sure you try the various inserts to find the one that works best for you.
Also, many people throw their shoes in the washing machine figuring it’s safe.
Washing, and especially drying your running shoes in a standard dryer, will typically distort their shape, due to the high temperatures of the dryer and the tossing about of the shoe. The heat alone tends to shrink the material of the shoe. In other words, it’s highly unlikely your shoes will fit properly in the end. There are many washing machines on the market now that could allow one to safely wash shoes, that is IF they have the proper settings: hand wash or a delicate might work. As for older models, it’s best to get a hot soapy washcloth and clean the shoes yourself. NEVER put your running shoes in the dryer!!!! I have a rack that sits in the dryer so shoes, hats, etc., are not being tumbled around, instead the dryer can be set for a low/medium heat and they dry in place as if left outside to dry. Air dry outdoors is your best bet.
Concerned about stinky shoes? Prevent it by ever happening by making sure your feet are clean to begin with, add a dusting of foot powder to the bottom of your foot, use ‘wick-a-way’ moisture socks, and add another light dusting of foot powder to the inside of your shoes. Remove you shoes immediately after training, loosen laces, pull tongue back, and allow them to air out.
We all have different feet. A pair of shoes that started off okay for short distances, but wreaks havoc on long runs could very well indicate you need an insert. Most inserts found at stores will work just fine. Be sure to try several types, gel, etc., and replace accordingly.
It would be nice to think our structural system is perfect, however, sometimes we need an adjustment. The adjustment could very well be in the hips, knees, or ankles. Chiropractors can suggest specific exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles around a loose joint to keep the issue in check, and eventually eliminate it. For instance, performing various types of calve raises will strengthen muscles surrounding the area of the shin.
7. WARM-UP / STRETCH
Proper warm-up and stretching cannot be emphasized enough. Never shortchange yourself on your warm-up or cool-down, ditto pre and post-workout stretches. Be sure to include a direct stretch for the shin(s) as well. Basically, this involves standing on both feet. Slightly bend your right leg, and tuck your left foot back, placing the top of the foot onto the floor. Simply rotate through the shin area until you feel a good stretch, repeat with your other leg. Be sure to stretch and utilize the full range of motion (ROM) regardless of the stretch you’re doing.
After any type of intense or long duration workout, ice can help reduce swelling and in turn, lessen and even control pain. I don’t suggest using anti-inflammatory medications, or painkillers, both have negative side effects and take a toll on the liver. I suggest icing the first 24 hours as much as needed, and continue a few times a day for up to three days. At this point, I would introduce hot/cold applications then massage the area entirely. If progress has not been made in 14 days or a bit less, I’d see a doctor to make sure you haven’t done some other type of damage.
Be sure to include lean meats, fish, dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables (especially the dark green leafy kind), whole grains, and pecans in your eating plan. These foods are wholesome and contain good amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, Vitamins A, C, and E, B Vitamins, and zinc. All are necessary for repair and rebuilding of damaged tissue, and cells. Be sure to include essential fatty acids as well. I suggest ground flaxseed, perhaps 1 tablespoon daily.
10. HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES
Homeopathic remedies are safe, non-toxic, and are not habit forming. Two I suggest using for shin splints and/or any type of trauma to physical body are:
- Arnica Montana
- Magnesia Phosphorica
Both can be found at a health food store. Take according to the directions on the bottle. Arnica Montana is also available as a gel and cream to work into the skin of the affected area, as well.
I’m not a big fan of taping for shin splints. I feel it’s best to allow them to fully heal, and make sure the above items re all on track for preventative maintenance, however, I realize some of you must run whether you want to or not such as military, etc. In this case taping could save you a lot of pain. Here is a link to help you learn how to wrap properly for shin splints:
We must be aware of our exercise habits, eating regimen, rest/sleep cycles, and mental state of mind. All keep us in good health, and reduce our chances of injury by simply being mindful of them. When you feel pain STOP what you are doing and figure out where the pain is coming from, do not ignore it. Pain is the body’s way of letting us know something is amiss. If you have shin splints, have taken time off, and are beginning to exercise again and feel pain, stop. You need more time to heal, and healing cannot be rushed. Go swimming instead, biking, take advantage of other opportunities, and allow your body to heal.
PS - Locals: Please, E-mail me if you’re interested in a Runner’s Workshop.