The Aches and Pains of Spring Fever
Spring is right around the corner and with the shinning sun and mild weather comes the parade of outdoor runners. Some of us head outside to enjoy a simple workout, others are training for their first marathon and still others run to condition themselves for their favorite summer sport. Whatever the case may be, we all want to avoid the most common too-much-too-soon injury shin splints!
What are shin splints?
Shin splints is an umbrella term referring to general pain usually located on the inside, lower end of the shinbone. The term refers to a variety of different conditions, however the most common is medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome. (Medial simply refers to the inside and tibial refers to the tibia bone, one of the two bones of the lower leg.) The tibia is significant because it connects to both the ankle and the knee joint. It is, in fact, the only bone of the lower leg that plays a role in both joints and thus serves as the only weight-bearing bone of the lower leg. This means it must absorb all the force traveling up the leg each time you step.
Some of the major muscles that control movement at the ankle and foot reside on the tibia. With heavy running, these muscles become fatigued and alter the natural movement at the joints. The result is less efficient shock-absorbing mechanics. When you run, you place up to five times your body weight on each limb with every step. Combine this with muscles that are constantly tugging away at the bone and what do you have? A painful overuse condition often experienced in those of us who attempt too much too soon.
How do I know if I have shin splints?
Here are some common symptoms associated with shin splints:
- Pain in the lower, inside portion of the shin. You may notice the pain travels vertically up and down.
- Pain is not specific to one site but resides in a general area.
- Initially, pain may only be felt after an intense weight-bearing activity.
- Pain may also be experienced while performing the activity (usually running) and may disappear as the activity continues.
- Pain may then progress and be present throughout the activity.
- Stiffness in the morning
Look out for any swelling, redness and tenderness in the area.
How do I avoid shin splints?
It’s all about pacing yourself!
- Intensity, distance and frequency: Do not increase these factors too quickly; keep it to increments of less than 10% a week.
- Mix it up: If you want to improve your endurance for a long distance event, include a couple of cross-training activities. Try swimming or cycling!
- Surface: Make the transition from treadmill to concrete sidewalk gradually, not all at once; treadmills tend to give a little more. If you love the nature trails, be aware—the uneven surfaces place extra stress on the lower leg muscles and may tire them out sooner. Again, work these in gradually.
- Roads or banked tracks: Be careful as they may place an unequal distribution of weight on the feet.
- Footwear: Running shoes lose their ability to absorb stresses after 300 to 500 miles. How old are yours?
- Flat feet may cause extra stress on the bones and joints. Inquire about insoles or orthotics. Use only if absolutely required as they are grossly overprescribed.
Have a solid warm-up and don’t forget to stretch the muscles of the lower leg. Perform calf stretches as well as stretches for the shin muscles. Strengthen the shin muscles before every training session. Try walking on your heels with your feet facing forward, then turned inward and then turned outward. Perform each for a distance of roughly 20 meters.
Lastly, don’t forget proper nutrition; as an athlete your body needs more protein to repair the muscles you just worked. Ideally protein should be consumed within 30 minutes after your workout. Bring a healthy homemade shake to your workout session.
Yours in health,
Natasha Vani BSc., MSc., ND