Once you get rid of painful Shin Splints, do the right stuff so they stay gone.
In my previous post, we talked about staying injury free as you transition into spring activities. That information is very relevant as we discuss how to re-enter your activity or sport as you are coming back from an injury such as shin splints.
The one thing that every injured athlete is motivated to do is get back to their sport or activity. If you have done everything right and are now at a place where you have gotten sufficient relief from the pain of stubborn shin splints then you are probably eager to get moving. Here is where you need to be careful.
When your pain is receding and your conﬁdence is growing is the time when you are most susceptible to re-injury. Just because you are starting to feel better does not mean that the tissues that were affected by Shin Splints are completely healed. It can take 8-12 weeks or longer in ideal circumstances for complete regeneration and healing of soft tissue injuries. So…the advice I give my patients as they are starting an exercise program or are beginning to feel better is the following.
There are several important things to be aware of once you have recovered that will help with a smooth transition back to your sport and prevent a reoccurrence of painful Shin Splints and keep you running stronger and faster than before.
Biomechanical Pattern and Supportive Shoes
Find out your biomechanical pattern and choose the correct shoes to offer your feet the best stability.
Reactivating and strengthening your core musculature and most importantly your gluteal musculature will be key in terms of preventing a reoccurrence of painful Shin Splints.
Stretch and Strengthen
Increase and then maintain the ﬂexibility and strength of your lower leg musculature. Stretch after exercise or after a hot bath or shower when your muscles are warm.
Avoid the Terrible Toos
If you are a parent, then this statement may resonate with you, but I’m talking about a different sort of Terrible Toos.
These “Terribles” are the number one cause of running injuries and those who have had a previous injury are especially susceptible to an exacerbation if they push too much.
Start Low and Go Slow
To avoid a recurrence, “Start Low and Go Slow” and see what your body is able to tolerate. Stick to the 10-Percent Rule which states that you should never increase your weekly mileage or any one run by more than 10 percent over the previous week.
Always warm up your body by ﬁrst moving the big muscles of your body which will help to avoid injury during your workout. This is different than stretching before you start. Ankle, knee and hip circles as well as arm circles all done in a comfortable range will start to get blood ﬂowing into muscles and get you ready for your activity. Then start slowly by walking for about 5 minutes before you up the intensity.
Especially if you are just in the beginning stages of recovery, start with your warm up and then run for only 1-2 minutes. Slow back to a walk for 5 minutes and check in with your body to see how everything feels.
Then speed up to a run again for the same 1-2 minutes. Repeat this cycle only 3 times on your ﬁrst outing even if you have no pain and are feeling fabulous. It will be a total workout of about 20 minutes.
With each subsequent workout, slowly trade timing of the intervals by decreasing the walk breaks by 1-2 minutes and by adding 1-2 minutes in each of the running intervals until you can comfortably run 20 minutes straight with no pain.
If at any time during this process you start to feel pain, stop your workout, take a few days rest and begin again at the beginning. When you can comfortably run the entire 20 minutes, you can start to add time and distance each week following the 10 percent rule.
Walk or run on a soft even surface in order to minimize the risk of injury. Packed dirt or grass are ideal especially if you are just returning from injury. The asphalt road is softer than the concrete sidewalk and the shoulders of roads are usually soft but they are often slanted.
I often see patients in my ofﬁce with new leg complaints when they have started upping the distance of their long runs on country roads with a beveled shoulder. If you’re running consistently on a slanted surface, injury risk increases. Look for running routes over the ﬂattest roads available.
Cross-training is a great way to avoid running injuries. In my own athletic experience, when I changed my training to include a lot more swimming and biking to get ready for a triathlon, the injuries that I struggled with as a runner virtually disappeared.
Cross-training will reduce the repetitive pounding that your body takes when your running mileage is high and will help to even out muscle imbalances by developing parts of your body that running neglects.
It will also burn additional calories, and increase aerobic capacity. Some examples of cross-training include cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, stair machines and hiking.
These options should deﬁnitely be included more often in the workout schedules of those who are just recovering from an acute injury.
Recovery Between Workouts
Expect mild stiffness and soreness 1-2 days after walking or running. This delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is quite normal and is the result of tissue breakdown and healing. You should be relatively pain free before you do the activity again so you should include recovery periods of 24 to 48 hours between workouts in order to let your body rest and get ready for the next workout.
During your recovery time between workouts take time to take care of yourself which will help you to avoid an injury or a recurrence of an injury like Shin Splints. Get a massage, do some restorative yoga, take lots of naps (sleep is often forgotten about in many training programs), go for a slow walk or an easy bike ride.
Seek Professional Help if Your Case is Difficult
If you have pain that lasts longer than 48 hours or gets worse with activity, it may be time to seek out the help of a professional. If you have a particularly difﬁcult case of Shin Splints or if you have a particularly difﬁcult foot type, then seek out the help of a professional and add a custom made orthotic in order to gain even more stability.
So get out there and start putting one foot in front of the other. Start slow to avoid the recurrence of Shin Splints, but if they happen to sneak up on you, use the tools that you have learned here to take care of it right away so you can get back on the road as soon as possible.
Here’s to staying Shin Splint free!
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.