Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Do I Get Shin Splints?

One of the main injuries that I have not been able to get rid of are shin splints.  Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are one of the most common injuries to new runners.  Shin splints were at one time thought to be micro tears in the soft tissue that attaches to the shin bone (tibia).  Recent studies have shown that shin splints are actually a bone injury.  If shin splints are ignored, they can progress into a stress fracture. While doctors don’t specifically know what causes shin splints, there are some common causes of shin splints.  My shin splints have gone away, but tend to resurface when I try to over train.  I apologize in advance for such a technical post, but I think its the best way to diagnose and treat your particular type of shin splints.

Causes of Shin Splints:
The vast majority of running injuries are overuse injuries.  They occur when you run too much or increase your weekly training program too quickly.  The 10-percent rule (10PR) is one of the most important and time-proven principles in running.  It states that you should never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent over the previous week. 

Inadequate stretching can cause you to work too hard on muscles that are tight.  It is recommended that runners do not do static stretches prior to running.  Dynamic stretching tends to be better.  Here is a link to some dynamic stretches for runners.

As I talked about in my previous post, shoes are only built to last for so many miles before the padding breaks down.  Running in worn out shoes can cause more of the impact to be felt in your bones, joints, and soft tissue.  One easy way to know when to replace your shoes are thin pods you put under your insole called the Mino.  The Mino will let you know when to replace your shoes without having to keep track of mileage.  You can purchase them at or at participating retailers.  Also make sure that you are wearing the right type of shoe for your type of gait.  Many people are having great success with maximalist shoes like Hoka One One and Altra shoes.  I tried on a pair or Altra Instinct 2.0’s and they will be the next shoe I purchase.  They have extra cushioning but are extremely light and comfortable.

Favoring one leg while running can put added stress on that leg.  Runners tend to favor one leg over the other for several reasons.  Running on cambered roads, always running in one direction around a track, or having one leg longer than the other all cause you to make one leg work harder than the other.  The other main reason why a runner would favor one leg over another is if they are injured.  Runners tend to have one leg try and pick up the slack if they have an injury on the other leg. It is better to just take a few days off and recover than try and push through the pain.

Treatment for Shin Splints:

1) Experts agree, if you start to develop shin splints, you should immediately take a short break from running or decrease your training (depending on the severity of your injury).  Just trying to run through the pain will only make your shin splints worse.

2) Ice the spot of the pain.  You can use a Cryocup, but I just use a red Solo Cup and once frozen, I use a wash cloth so my hand doesn’t get too cold.  It is good for several icings and is cheap.  Icing this way is also more effective than using an ice pack or a bag of corn. 

3) Gently stretch your Achilles if you have medial shin splints and your calves if you have anterior shin splints. Also, try this stretch for your shins: Kneel on a carpeted floor, legs and feet together and toes pointed directly back. Then slowly sit back onto your calves and heels, pushing your ankles into the floor until you feel tension in the muscles of your shin. Hold for 10 to 12 seconds, relax and repeat.  In a sitting position, trace the alphabet on the floor with your toes. Do this with each leg. Or alternate walking on your heels for 30 seconds with 30 seconds of regular walking. Repeat four times. These exercises are good for both recovery and prevention. Try to do them three times a day. You can also do stretches against a wall.  See the diagram below.
4) There are several types of products for when you start running again to help reduce shin pain.  Some runners have had success with KT Tape, compression socks/leg sleeves, and creams (Penetrex).  It has been my experience that you need to let your shins recover before any of these measures will really help you. 

Your shins will be stronger than before your injury if you allow an adequate amount of time for recovery.  If you are like me and can’t stand not being active, there are a few alternatives.  It is totally acceptable to cross train as long as you are not doing a high-impact activity.  A few great alternatives while you are recovering are doing yoga, cycling, swimming, and taking the dog for a walk.

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