One minute you’re smashing miles,the next, crippled by a sharp pain shooting up your shins. Shin Splints are pains in the shins or up the front of the lower legs.
Their cause? In short, doing too much, too soon.
They result from tired or inflexible calf muscles putting too much stress on tendons, which become strained and torn. Other causes can include running on roads, stiff running trainers or running too regularly.
The best way to prevent them is to follow a sensible training programme that progresses gradually and incorporates rest days. However, there are also steps that you can take before, during and after your run to help minimise your risk of shin splints.
Invest in a decent pair of trainers - Shoes with extra cushioning and support may help prevent shin pain but everyone has different needs from a trainer, so seek advice from an expert running shop and try out several different pairs before you buy.
Although your warm-up is unlikely to prevent shin splints – if you push your body too far, too soon, something will get irritated regardless – it will help increase circulation, which will, in turn loosen your muscles and prepare them for your run. Meaning less chance of injury.
It may seem like a boring waste of time but stretching post workout is a key player in preventing shin splints. Tight calf muscles can increase your risk of anterior shin splints, while a tight Achilles can lead to medial shin splints.
· Calf stretch – stride forward and stand, first with your back leg extended and both heels on the ground, hips tilting forward; then bring the back foot in slightly and bend the leg slightly at your knee.
· Anterior shin stretch – kneel down on the floor then sit back on your heels, keeping your upper body lifted.
How to prevent shin splints during your run
Choose your terrain
Swap your concrete surface for something softer like a park or playing field to reduce your likelihood of shin splints. If there’s an obvious camber to the road, then make sure you run out and back on the same side.
Sprinting may feel good but if you’re body isn’t ready to be pushed to its max, it’s going to find a way of slowing you down. Well hello shin splints. 'Factor in a recovery week, where you reduce your mileage, every fourth week and if you are new to running, or recovering from an injury, build up more slowly and include other types of exercise such as swimming and cycling in your exercise programme.
Watch your distance
Don’t increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. Support your running with training to strengthen the calf, quads and glutes, to improve the way the leg manages load.
Don't forget technique
There's more to running than just placing one foot in front of the other, making sure you're doing it properly can help to prevent shin splints. Improving your running technique will help to reduce the load going through the leg - overloading being one of the main causes of shin splints.
How to prevent shin splints after your run
Prevent a build-up of toxic substances and lactic acid post run by cooling down afterwards. Removing these from the body will reduce your likelihood of experiencing muscular pain and stiffness.
You did them at the start but stretching out troublesome calf muscles is equally as important after your run, too.
Strengthen the muscles in your legs and feet to assist your running technique and prevent shin splints.
· Walking on your heels – this will help strengthen the muscles down the front of your shin bone.
· Calf raises – do these first, both feet at the same time, then standing on each foot separately.
· Try to pick up a pen with your toes to strengthen your foot arches.
· Trace the alphabet on the floor with your toes.
How to treat shin splints
What to do when disaster strikes? Follow the RIP of injury management:
Call time on your exercise plans – temporarily. Shin splints symptoms need TLC so put your feet up and take it easy.
Ease any inflammation by applying ice packs to the shin splints area for 10 minutes or so every few hours.
Ibuprofen will not only banish any discomfort but will also help to manage inflammation.
If taking time out from your exercise programme is not an option, at least switch your standard high-impact runs for lower intensity sessions on. Then, when the pain has eased, return to your runs – gradually.
And if the pain doesn’t improve, your shin splint could in fact be a more serious condition such as a stress fracture, strain or tendon injury so seek medical advice.