Shin splints: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Shin splints are one of the most frustrating things a runner will ever encounter. And chances are, most runners will deal with them at one point or another. In fact, shin splints make up more than 13 percent of all injuries suffered by runners.

Since this condition is so common, it makes sense to prepare yourself for it by learning how to prevent, identify and treat shin splints.

Causes and Symptoms

Shin splints, known in the medical community as tibial stress syndrome, are not a condition in and of themselves but are generally just a symptom of some other underlying problem. Since, like all pains, shin splints can be a signal that something else is going on, it’s important to know whether or not what you’re dealing with is indeed shin splints.

The pain we call shin splints is a dull, throbbing ache in the front of the lower leg. This can manifest during or after exercise, either along the edges of the shin bone or deeper in the muscle. In some cases, the pain is constant but the area can also be more sensitive to touch. As with any persistent pain, you should get your doctor’s opinion on the best course of treatment.

A medical professional’s input is especially important in shin splints because they can be a symptom of stress fractures. These tiny, hairline breaks in the bone can happen without your knowledge and require medical attention so that your bone heals properly.

Over-pronation, an incorrect stride associated with flat feet, can also cause shin splints. In these cases, the natural arch in the soles of your feet are pressed flat when from the impact of each step. This stretches the muscles and tendons in an unhealthy and unnatural way that will lead to tibial stress. Many people have flexible flat feet and don’t realize it until they run on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.

The most common cause of shin splints, though, is overuse. Working your lower legs too hard or too often will cause the muscles to swell and become irritated. Of course, what is too hard or too often will depend on your fitness level and may take some experimentation at first.

Prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and shin splints are no exception to this rule. Even when the pain is minor, shin splints can potentially keep you from running for weeks and slow you down even once you start your training again. Fortunately, preventing shin splints is pretty simple.

Before you even hit the road, the first thing you need to do is select your perfect running shoes. These shoes will have good padding and promote a healthy stride, with a mid-foot strike.

Be warned: too much padding is very possible. If the soles of your shoes are overly-thick, it will be more tempting for you to adopt a heel-strike and several other bad habits. You want to land on the middle of your foot and roll forward to the balls of your feet. Also, consider investing in arch-support inserts if you have flat feet. Even once you have your ideal shoes, avoid running on inflexible surfaces that can wreak havoc on your arches.

Once all your footwear is in order, you’re almost ready to run. First, don’t forget to stretch and warm-up. These are often neglected aspects of runners’ training, generally left out to save time. All it takes, though, is a 5 to 10 minute warm-up, including a few stretches before and after, to help prevent shin splints.

Finally, don’t overdo it. Runners, and athletes in general, have a habit of pushing through pain, but this could just cause more injury and keep you down for longer periods of time. If you feel pain during your workout, stop running.

Treatment

If, despite your best efforts, you have shin splints, the best possible treatment, regardless of the underlying cause, is something terrifying to all athletes: Rest.

Your body will act to repair the damage on its own if you give it the chance. One of the most productive things you can do is work to lessen the inflammation. Ice your shins for 20 minutes every three hours until the pain goes away. Aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory painkillers can also help, but should only be taken regularly under a doctor’s direction.

Once the pain subsides and you decide to brave another run, start slowly. Don’t try to pick up your training right where you left off. Start with slow jogs and listen to your body for any signals. Your legs will tell you how much they can take.

For more serious and persistent cases, your doctor may recommend physical therapy and mobility exercises.

Have you struggled with and overcome shin splints? Please share your tips with us in the comments!

Sources

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/shin-splints

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/shin-splints/DS00271

Seven Fitness Myths Busted

If I had a dollar for each time someone told me “running is bad for your knees”, I’d have enough money for a pretty nice vacation.

Luckily for me and all of the other runners out there, this information is outdated and inaccurate. It turns out that running may actually protect your knees from health problems, such as degenerative knee issues. A runner’s risk of knee injuries is only increased if they had a previous knee trauma, or if they have a family history of knee problems.

That certainly isn’t the only fitness myth out there. Here are the real stories behind other common exercise misconceptions:

Myth 1: You can eat whatever you want as long as you exercise. This may hold true for professional triathletes, but not for the rest of us. If you weigh 150 lbs. and run 3 miles, for instance, you’ll burn about 300 calories. That’s approximately the number of calories in a cup of oatmeal and a banana. Unfortunately, exercising doesn’t give you a license to eat whatever you like. You need to burn as many calories as you take in if you want to maintain your weight.

Myth 2: Weight training will bulk you up. Not true. Lifting weights will actually help you tone up and slim down: the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Only people who do intense strength training workouts and have certain genetic factors are able to build large muscles.

Myth 3: You can “spot reduce” certain areas of your body. Nope! You can do all the crunches you want, but that won’t necessarily get you six-pack abs. You’ll also have to do cardio exercise and eat a healthy diet, losing fat all over your body, before those toned abs will show up.

Myth 4: Yoga is an easy workout. Some styles of yoga, and certain postures, are both mentally and physically challenging. Yoga is generally a safe workout, but injuries can occur, so if you’re new to yoga you should start slowly and respect your body’s limits. Also, if you have any health issues, check with your doctor before you hit the yoga mat. “Hot” or bikram yoga isn’t safe for pregnant women, for example.

Myth 5: You have to exercise intensely to get results. There is no truth behind the “no pain, no gain” mantra. In fact, working out too hard can lead to injuries and burnout. Never exercise through pain. You can gain plenty of benefits through moderate workouts.

Myth 6: It’s always best to stretch before you exercise. Experts have long studied and debated the potential benefits of stretching. One thing is for sure, though: it’s safest to stretch after your muscles are already warm. So take a warm-up lap and then stretch, or save it for after your workout.

Myth 7: Machines are safer than free weights. There is a small but real risk of injury regardless of what type of weights you lift. Machines may seem safer because they put you in the correct starting position, but they’re only effective if they’re adjusted for your weight and height. You can still use incorrect form on many machines. Ask a trainer to show you how to use equipment so you can make sure you have the right technique and settings.

What’s your favorite — or least favorite — fitness myth?

Sources

http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/top-9-fitness-myths-busted

http://sportsdoc.runnersworld.com/2012/05/how-bad-is-running-for-your-knees.html

http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/workout-myths-debunked-i-can-eat-anything-if-i-exercise.html

http://ww2.wcmh.com/story/13957346/5-common-myths-about-exercise

http://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness-pictures/separating-fitness-fact-from-fiction.aspx#/slide-1