To some people, shin splints are the too much, too soon injury. These wounds are more than just physically painful for beginning runners, as those who embark on aggressive get-fit workout routines often start to second guess their decision after developing injuries like shin splints. Furthermore, because they have not yet developed effective workout habits, it is much harder to get back into the swing of things, and the depression starts spiraling downward.
For established runners, shin splints are the quintessential overuse injury. Once we fall into a routine, it is not easy to shake things up and we sometimes feel as though we don’t need time off. Not everyone who fails to do these things will develop shin splints, but a large percentage of these people will do so.
What Are Shin Splints?
One of the first steps in overcoming injury is understanding the problem, and although the name sounds fairly serious, shin splints are essentially just fatigued muscles that are rebelling against an activity increase.
The discomfort begins as a dull ache either outside the shin and below the knee or inside the shin just above the ankle. This pain usually subsides after exercise and returns, sometimes worse than before, during rest. The more rest, such as a night’s sleep, the more intense the soreness.
Shin splints are very common, encompassing perhaps 16 percent of all leg-related injuries.
Avoiding Shin Splints
Many sports cars are designed to accelerate quickly and we all thrill to the site, but your body is not a sports car and it is not intended to go from zero to sixty in three seconds. Specifically, when it comes to shin splints, understanding what your body can and cannot do is very important to avoiding early shin splints.
Before people over 45 or those with any chronic health conditions start any exercise program, talk with your doctor and set some realistic fitness goals that will make a difference in your life.
Once you start, do not follow the tired old “no pain, no gain” mantra. While this slogan is very catchy and at least somewhat motivational, it is also misleading. While some very mild dull soreness is quite normal, any sudden pain or any soreness that lingers for more than a few seconds is probably a sign of pre-injury. Take some time off, then get back at it.
Time off is also good advice for experienced exercisers. We must often force ourselves to rest, because we sometimes do not understand our own endurance levels. Varying your workout routine, perhaps by including a day of cycling a week, also helps prevent overuse injuries.
Dealing with Shin Splints
Injuries are almost inevitable no matter what precautions you take, and the RICE method is the best way to deal with them.
- Rest: Stay off your feet as much as possible, and move slowly when you get up and around.
- Ice: Twenty minutes of cold therapy at a time is usually sufficient to reduce inflammation and ease discomfort.
- Compression: A shin splints brace supports the leg until your shin muscles are fully recovered.
- Elevation: Keep your leg up whenever you are sitting or lying down to further reduce inflammation and swelling.
Most shin splints take between two and four weeks to dissipate. Make sure the pain is completely gone before you go back to your normal routine, because a re-injury can take up to six months to heal.