Running is among the most popular sport around the world and its popularity have grown in the past decades. In the United States alone, over 64 million people go running or jogging and the benefits are many from keeping in shape to managing conditions, having fun and relieving stress. In spite of the fact that it is a less dangerous sport unlike say for instance rugby, without proper warm up and training, runners are also exposed to risks. Up to 70% of runners get injured every year and 35% of those injuries are shin splints. With marathon and triathlon season here, now is the time to raise awareness of proper training and footwear and simultaneously what to do in case accidents happen.
Shin splints are an extremely painful and stubborn to heal injury affecting the front or side of the lower leg, near the tibia. They often involve small leg muscle tears with more complicated cases even fracturing the bone. Usually, this injury occurs as a result of repetitive and strenuous training activity.
The best thing a runner can do in this situation is to seek help from a physiotherapist. There are a number of techniques available which can be individually or combined customized for a patient’s specific needs. Among them, a therapist can use load modification, manual physical therapy, athletic tapping, custom orthotics or acupuncture.
What to wear and how to exercise to minimize risk
There are a number of things your therapist can help you achieve in addition to the actual treatment provided. Selecting what shoes to wear is among the top priorities. As each runner is different, ideally they right pair would encourage the foot’s movement and flexibility to its most natural gait. The surface on which the running happens is an equally relevant factor – on pavements, road shoes would be the most appropriate, on muddy trails, a runner is better off with trail shoes and so on.
Exercise-wise, there are a couple of exercises recommended on a regular basis for runners to avoid and alleviate shin pain. Toe raises, arch raising – lowering, calf and bent leg stretches are among the most popular ones in ameliorating pain and they work to strengthen the muscle in front of the shin. A foam roller calf massager can also provide relief and help loosen muscle tension.
The conservative treatment of shin splints begins with rest, usually for a period between two to six weeks depending on the severity of the case. The next step involves a change of training conditions since following an injury it is highly risky to get back to training with full force. Moderation in exercising and a decrease in running distance, intensity and frequency by 50% is the safest way to begin with.
However, the extent of the injury dictates the rehabilitation process and is a key factor in determining the time and effort required to reach complete recovery. Generally, the outlook is successful, especially when a physiotherapy program is put in place by a trained professional.