If you've been into running training for a while you probably know already that shin splints can cause severe discomfort. The pain, common along the front edge of the shin is usually the result of intense, repetitive running training that involves hard impacts on the feet and lower legs.
Many people try to continue training with shin splints, but is that a wise idea? Understandably if you have serious running goals to hit, you don't want to lose out on making progress and you want to keep up training. However, keep pushing on while trying to nurse an injury like that could cause even greater damage and result in a longer time-out period if you don't deal with it appropriately.
In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the issue of shin splints, including recovery and what to do if you think you might have them.
What are shin splints?
"Shin splints" conjures up images of splintered bones, but the term itself is generally used to refer to pain in muscles at the front of the shin around the main shin bone. There are two types of shin splints: posterior and anterior.
Posterior shin splints occur when the so-called tibialis posterior muscle in your lower leg doesn’t have the endurance to continually support the medial arch of the foot as it repeatedly hits the ground. During the course of running the foot becomes increasingly pronated which then causes stress on the shin bone. This stress is usually felt a few inches above the ankle on the inside of the leg.
Anterior (or front) shin splints occur higher up, nearer to the knee. These are the result of the inability of the anterior tibialis muscle to elevate the foot between strides. The muscle becomes tired, and the bone increasingly absorbs energy.
What causes shin splints?
There are a number of causes of shin splints of which people who do regular long-distance running need to be aware. These generally fall into three categories: poor biomechanics, overtraining, and inadequate equipment.
Issues can include tilting your feet as you run, a lack of lower body flexibility, poor abdominal strength, tight calf and hamstring muscles, and ramping up training intensity too quickly before your muscles have had time to adapt.
Inappropriate or worn out footwear can also increase the propensity for injury, as well as insufficient rest between training sessions.
Phases of Recovery
Phase 1: Reduce Pain And Inflammation
Shin splints are, essentially, a form of soft-tissue injury. As a result, current advice is to take anti-inflammatory painkillers, rest the affected muscle, and use ice to control inflammation just as you would for any other muscle injury.
Phase 2: Work Towards Full Motion
Initially, it will be challenging to keep the heel on the ground and lift your toes without pain. But over time, those who are injured must try to restore full motion. Include injury rehab techniques such as muscle stretches, massage, and special exercises under the guidance of a physiotherapist.
Phase 3: Correct Faulty Foot Biomechanics
As discussed, poor foot biomechanics are a common cause of shin splints. Therefore, you may need to have a professional look at your feet and your gait. Some runners require special shoes to correct foot position and movement pattern.
Phase 4: Regain Lost Muscle Strength
Muscles lose their strength during the recovery phase, so runners may need to do resistance training to restore strength to the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Failing to restore strength to these muscles may result in further injury, especially if you decide to immediately jump back into your old program after a long break.
Phase 5: Adjust The Training Program
Shin splints are often a warning sign that there's something wrong with your training program. Work with professionals, a running coach or a personal trainer to assess your situation, reduce the intensity of your regime to a level your body can handle and design a program that progressively increases the intensity to avoid injury in the future. This could include extending the recovery time between training sessions, and reducing the total weekly mileage until you have fully recovered.
Continuing to run while you have shin splints is not a good idea. Although you may worry that your running performance will diminish if you don't keep up your training, you’ll suffer even more in the long term if you ignore the problem. Shin splints cause scarring, and repeated scarring can result in weakened repaired tissue. The greater the scarring, the easier it is to injure yourself again in the future.
It’s also possible for the tibialis muscle compartment to become severely damaged, requiring surgery to correct, and many weeks away from training.
Current advice for people training hard for running events? Stop the moment you experience shin splints and talk to your coach about a recovery strategy. If you are dealing with it right now and you are not sure what you should do, feel free to get in touch with The Barracks Gym team for advice.
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