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Shin Splints

Posted by: on June, 2 2012

By Coach Tony.  Coach-Tony.com   Shin splints are one of two (possibly more) injuries that require triathletes and runners to stop running altogether to properly heal; Plantar Fasciitis being the other. There are various unofficial definitions making the healing approach confusing. When I had shin splints, the doctor told me they are hairline fractures. Another story I heard was it was the tearing of the muscle away from the bone (sounded extreme). Regardless of the definition, your interest in tis article is either to avoid or heal it.

Shin splints cause dull, aching pain in the front of the lower leg. Some people feel it only during exercise; others, when they’ve stopped exercising. Sometimes, the pain is constant. Depending on the exact cause, the pain may be located along either side of the shinbone or in the muscles. The area may be painful to the touch. Swollen muscles can sometimes irritate the nerves in the feet, causing them to feel weak or numb. To diagnose shin splints, visit your doctor to get a thorough physical exam. You may also need X-rays or bone scans to look for fractures.

Most shin splints can be attributed to overloading the muscles of the lower extremities. Improper footwear, including worn-out shoes can contribute to shin splints because the shoe either does not or can no longer provide the shock absorption is needs. The impact of suddenly running on uneven terrain, uphill, hard surfaces, or especially downhill without gradual transition may also cause shin splints. Increasing running intensity and/or duration too quickly on these surfaces leads to shin splints because the tendons and muscles are unable to absorb the impact of the shock force as they become fatigued; the tibia bone is overloaded. The past 15 years has seen an increase in cross training because it strengthens secondary muscles, which support primary muscles. When primary muscles fatigued, secondary muscles help support. If secondary muscles are weak, your bone structure renders shock absorption duties thereby potentially contributing to shin splints. Other contributing factors include excessive pronation, tight calf muscles, and/or excessive activity or stress.

Although shin splints may be caused by different problems, treatment is usually the same. First, stop running for a minimum of 4 weeks. Second, ice the shin for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain and swelling is gone. Take anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin. Consider arch support for your shoes. Orthotics can be generic, off the shelf, or custom depending on the severity. Other potential treatments include range of motion exercises, neoprene sleeve to support and warm the leg, and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in your shins.

There’s no way to say exactly when your shin splints will go away. It depends on the cause. People also heal at different rates; three to six months is not unusual. The most important thing is not to rush back into running. If you start running before your shin splints have healed, you may hurt yourself permanently. Return to running by correcting any of the potential causes listed above and alternating walking with running for the first two weeks.

While you heal, take the opportunity to improve other disciplines like the swim or bike but exercise caution with strength so as to not further injure your shins. When in doubt don’t.

To prevent shin splints, remember to always wear shoes with good support and padding. Visit a respected shoe store to ensure you’re running in a shoe that properly supports your running gait, type and distance of running. Stop running at the first sign of pain in your shins. Increase your run mileage by no more than 10% per week. And lastly, transition to hilly or hard surface running gradually.

 Tony Troccoli has been a certified USA Triathlon and USA cycling since 2001. Tony has competed in nearly 20 Ironman events including Kona and coaches locally in the Southern California area and on-line nationwide. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Tony’s pre-built, easy-to-follow training programs. Tony is also a F.I.S.T certified bike fitter and soon to be Certified Total Immersion instructor. Contact Tony at tony@coach-tony.com.