For the runners among us, setting a personal best can be one of the greatest feelings ever - bonus points if it happens during an organized public run. The thought that all those months of training and hard work are finally paying offdrives a motivationto overcome injury, fatigue or muscle pain to reach the finish line. That being said, the runners among us (sincerely) can also be a stubborn bunch when it comes to listening to our bodies' injuries, and instead we try to overcome any muscle pain that makes the injury worse in the long run.
A typical example is the dreaded shin splints...
What are Shin Splints?
One of the worst stress injuries a runner can sustain is about turning off14% of running injuries, Shin splints (also known as medial tibial stress syndrome) refers to the inflammation of the connective tissue between the muscle and the tibia (shinbone) bone. They most commonly occur in response to overuse of the lower leg, causing a concentrated pain in the shin between the knee and ankle, and making any type of run or exercise challenging.
It doesn't matter if you're a first-time runner or a three-time marathon winner, shin splints can affect anyone who overloads the muscle.
Some of the main causes of shin splints are:
- Exercise and over-fatigue of the lower leg
- Wearing shoes that do not fit properly
- Stress reactions to bone fractures
- Not warming up properly
- Frequent running on uneven ground
While the recovery time for shin splints can vary depending on the individual and the extent of the injury, there are a few ways you can speed up recovery and get back on a new PB in no time.
Here are some simple and effective tips for faster shin splint recovery.
Get rest and avoid strenuous activities
While it may seem obvious to rest after a muscle overuse injury and avoid high-intensity training sessions, it's also the last thing a runner wants to hear. Given that shin splints are a repetitive strain injury resulting from overtraining, the no-pain-no-gain mentality only works here if you're trying to inflame the injury and further delay recovery. The leg takes time to heal and recover from the inflammation, so rest is the best strategy to get rid of shin splints.
On the other hand, it's also not a good idea to stop exercising altogether. There must always be a balance between rest and recovery exercises. If your exercises are making your shin splints worse, it's best to avoid them until further recovery.
Light and low-impact cross-training exercises like swimming, elliptical training, and even just walking can do wonders for your body tissues. If not overworked, these exercises can aid in injury rehabilitation by building muscle strength. In addition, exercise has proven to be fundamentalpositive impact on mental healthand self-esteem.
Wrapping an ice pack — something like a bag of frozen peas is just as efficient — in a towel and placing it on your leg is also a great way to treat shin splint pain. It might be a bit hard to take at first, but freezing temperatures can reduce inflammation and pain by blocking nerves from sending pain messages to the brain. Cooling the injury also increases blood flow, reduces muscle swelling, and thus helps get rid of shin splints faster.
To give you the best chance of a speedy recovery - especially immediately after the injury has revealed itself - it is best to apply the ice pack for about 20 minutes every 2-3 hours. If you can, try to continue doing this until the pain and discomfort is completely gone.
Tip: To avoid making things worse by giving yourself ice burns, do not apply ice directly to the shin. If you plan to use ice only, always use a thick cloth as a protective barrier to avoid damaging skin tissue.
A similar way of recovery is the use of compression bands orcompression clothing.
As the name suggests, compression garments "compress" the affected muscle. Similar to an ice pack, this increases oxygen and blood flow to reduce inflammation and pain. Unlike ice packs, you can wear compression garments wherever you want (just imagine the thought of walking around with an ice pack on your leg at work).
There is a wide range of low body compression clothing to choose from for shin splint injuries. These include socks, shorts and leggings that can be worn over the shin and come in a variety of sizes.
As with using ice packs, it is important to ensure compression garments or bandages are worn properly. The goal is to loosen them slightly while compressing the injured muscles. Putting on a compression bandage that is too tight or wearing clothing that is too small will actually slow recovery as it can restrict blood flow to the affected area.
Here are some of the top signs of tight compression wear that can affect your ability to recover:
- Increased pain
- numbness in the leg
- tingling in the leg
- Compression clothing leaves marks on the skin
While wearing compression stockings or icing your shins is useful, another way to recover faster is to simply elevate your shins/lower legs on something close to the heart. While it sounds silly, raising your leg like this can push excess fluid back into the blood vessels. This reduces or even prevents further swelling, relieves pressure on the nerves and relieves the resulting pain. One of the best ways to do these stretches is to simply lie down and lift your leg up on a comfortable surface; something like a pillow or a soft chair works wonders.
Like the cross-training exercises mentioned above, high-altitude stretches are a great way to improve your self-esteem andcombat psychological stressan injury.
How to prevent shin splints
While it's great to know how to speed up recovery from shin splints, ideally you want to avoid experiencing the pain in the first place. Luckily, there are a few tips that can do just that:
- Wear comfortable shoes – When was the last time you were there?new running shoes? While breaking in and getting used to running in a new pair of shoes can put us off buying a pair, old shoes can have worn treads and cushioning, increasing the likelihood of getting shin splints.
- Gradual Increases - Whether you're a beginner or have been running for years, it's fundamental not to overexert yourself. While the specific distance, speed, or intensity you should run is unique to each individual, you should always aim to gradually increase your exercise to gradually build muscle strength and prepare your body for the more difficult sprints and runs.
- Rest – Yes, you didn't want to see that again, but an effective rest plan can not only be a treatment for shin splints, but it can also work wonders in helping you reach your exercise goals. To avoid fatigue and prevent injury, try and take2-3 rest daysper week – although this again depends entirely on individual fitness. Even if it's not a day off. You should never attempt to train despite muscle pain as this can only lead to injury down the line
- Stretch - Don't warm upAchilles tendonand calf muscle is another contributing factor to shin splints. Consider stretching both before and after your run with a variety of static and dynamic stretches.
Interested in learning more about shin splints or other types of stress-related muscle injuries? I wonder what theThe best steps to support exercise recoveryare? Maybe you have some innovative and inspiring ideas to share? Don't hesitate to contact us on our Instagram@liveinnermost.