It happens every year...
As soon as the weather warms up and the runners start hitting the pavement in mass, we hear about shin splints non stop. Not only are they painful, if left untreated, they can keep us from doing what we love throughout the entire summer.
What are shin splints?
Generally speaking, shin splints are pain in the leg below the knee. While most common in new runners, it can happen to anyone who starts increasing their activity too quickly. The pain is caused by muscles of your lower leg pulling on your tendons which attach to your shin bone.
What to do if you have them?
Those of us that might have been too eager starting out this spring, are now even more eager to get back out there, and get out of the pain caused by shin splints. It can be a very easy fix, as simple as releasing the muscle tension in your lower leg.
How do you release the muscles causing the pain?
Many methods work for releasing muscle tissue. Applying direct pressure to muscles, not tendons, and not to where you feel the pain, works quite well. The traditional tools that provide direct pressure (foam roller, lacrosse and tennis balls, trigger point rollers and balls) all have their benefits of stimulating blood flow to the necessary areas. Just be aware that the body adapts to whatever demands we place on it. So if you've been using the traditional tools for a little while, you may be experiencing diminishing returns. The key is to be as specific as possible isolating the problem muscles. Target one area at a time, spend ample time (think 10-15 minutes, or more if you have it), the goal being to stimulate blood flow. This increase in blood flow will naturally cause the muscle to relax. This will have a direct affect on the shin splint where the tendon is inflamed. The tendon will experience less stress as you reduce the muscle's pull, and inflammation will reduce. Pain will diminish, if not completely disappear.
Shin splints need not keep you from running and training. Practice incorporating more recovery efforts into your routine and reap the benefits of healthy muscle tissue.
Be sure to avoid areas directly along the length of your shin bone (tibia). This is the area where the tendons are inflamed. Another area of interest is the back of your shin. The muscle that runs from your achilles tendon up to the calf is called your soleus and is intricately linked with tension causing the shin splints.
Can you avoid getting them in the first place?
You can start avoiding shin splints by becoming proactive in your muscle recovery. This means identifying a pain early on and working to relieve the stress and tension immediately. We highly recommend not trying to run/train through the pain. This simply compounds the problem and sets the problem more firmly into your tissue. If you address the problem early, the tissue is highly responsive and will transform with very little recovery effort. The longer you wait, the longer the recovery process. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment.
Want more info?
Runners World has great some resources to learn more.