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It’s probably one of the worst feelings for any runner. That moment when the last few months of hard work suddenly feel like they’re shattering in front of your very eyes. Shin splints is a common injury in runners, with the constant impact on the hard ground sometimes causing injury to the bone and surrounding tissue. The important part thing with combating shin splints is to prevent rather than cure. The initial sign is a dull aching pain in the tibia, on the inside of your lower leg. It isn’t always both legs, it can be in just one, so take extra care if you suspect this may be the case. It’s at this point the phrase “run through the pain” really isn’t going to help. Continued exercise will only make the matter worse, and could cause further damage to the bone.
If you feel the pain is caused by shin splints, you should avoid running for at least two weeks. Whilst it’ll undoubtedly be a blow to your training plans, you can still do low impact exercise, such as cycling or swimming. The movement isn’t too strenuous and will help with recovery. Holding an ice pack on the painful area will also help. By putting the cold compress onto your legs for 10 minutes every 2-3 hours, you can help to relieve pain and swelling.
Once the pain has subsided, you can gradually return to running, but don’t try to hit the same levels you were before. Ensure you do a thorough warm-up prior to heading out again. Running on sports fields will help reduce the shock from impact through your legs, and only doing 50% of what you were before will help you back to recovery. If the pain comes back, stop immediately. This is when you’ll more than likely need to go see your doctor. They may need to refer you to see a physiotherapist.
To prevent the return of shin splints, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct shoes for your weight and foot type. Seeing a specialist will help make sure you’re wearing the correct shoe. Build up your training levels gradually – heading out and doing too much will only increase the chances of the injury occurring again. Avoid running on hard surfaces like pavements and roads where possible, they’ll only make the situation worse. Finally, it may be worth investing in some recovery compression socks, as well as calf and shin guards. Both help to reduce muscle fatigue and damage to the lower leg and are worn by most long distance athletes to aid training.
Obviously, as with all injuries, you should never try to self diagnose, and if you suspect you have shin splints, you should contact your GP to find out what they can do to help you back to full fitness.