Running season is in full swing with many people starting to increase their mileage to run the longer distances in the fall. With this increased mileage certain ailments start to come to light. One of the most common running injuries is shin splints. People seem to ignore them and brush them off, taking a day or two off of running, taking some Advil and thinking they will go away. This is not the case. While they may go away for a day or a week, they will come back and sometimes so strong that they stop you from running.
What do shin splints feel like? You will feel pain in the front of the lower leg, in the shins. The impact of running will send pain through the front of your lower leg. Often the pain will start off rather tolerable, meaning you will be able to run through it. But then the duration and frequency of pain in your shins will keep increasing and eventually they will hurt even when you are not running.
Time off from running alone won't heal shin splints. Many people feel the answer is to stop and to do nothing for a couple days or a few weeks. This is not the right answer, however. You should never just stop running when you have pain and think that the time off alone will heal the issue. Yes, when you go back to running you will feel better because the inflammation has calmed down but you have not corrected the problem. Unless you tripped and sprained your ankle you do not know why you were having pain. Therefore there was an underlying cause that you need to address. Simply stopping running does not address the issue; it just stops the inflammation but then once you begin running again, eventually they will come back and most often times they will come back even worse.
Foam rolling can help. Anyone who consistently reads my articles knows I am a big fan of foam rolling. You cannot be a runner and not foam roll. It is important to take the time to do it and get the muscles back to the normal resting state, so injuries like shin splints do not happen. We have several videos on Total Performance Physical Therapy's youtube channel that show you how to do that. It is important that you add the foam rolling component in as it will help address many issues and keep things, like shin splints from happening.
Practice the stretches in the video below. Foam rolling should be continued during this time but also you need to add in some stretches. Make sure that you are stretching and foam rolling the whole leg as the shin does not operate as an independent part of the body. So if one muscle or body part is tight it will affect other muscles and this can cause you problems.
The stretches in the video show you how to stretch out the front part of the leg, the back part of the leg and the hip. Many people fail to understand that having tightness in the hip will cause pain and limit the ability to run effectively and therefore cause injury. Just because you are having pain in your shin does not mean that you can rule out the hip as a possible root of the injury. Performing these stretches several times throughout the day will be imperative to overcoming shin splints. If you find that you are foam rolling and performing these stretches and the shin splints are still persisting then you should seek out medical attention to diagnose and treat the root of the problem.
Make sure you perform these stretches several times throughout the day. I am a big believer in incorporating them into your daily routines instead of carving out a particular time for them. Once they become part of the routine, they are easier to perform and the compliance is much higher. For example, stretching out the front of the leg is easily done in the shower or while brushing your teeth. And it is okay if you only do one type of stretch at a time. If you stretch many times throughout the day, that is actually more beneficial than just spending one ten minute segment every day or every other day. Finding a consistent foam rolling and stretching routine is imperative to being a healthy athlete.