Learning never exhausts the mind

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I've been suffering from shin splits ever since I started running a year ago. It seems to be a persistent problem where after 2 weeks of running twice per week, about 3-4k distance each run, I then have to take a few weeks off to recover from shin splints.

Once I'm all nicely rested and healed, I'm starting back running a short distance, what feels like from the beginning again, and work up to longer distance when I'll get shin splints again. Whilst I have made improvements to my fitness and endurance, I wanted to analyse my running style ahead of my upcoming 10K race next month to prevent further injury.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints are a general term used to describe pain along the shin bone (tibia) that usually develops or gets worse when you exercise, particularly when running. If you have shin splints, the pain may be down the front or sides of your shin. It's caused by damage to the muscles, tendons or bone tissue around your shin.

What causes shin splints?

There are a lot of causes of shin splints, ranging from a big increase in your activity levels to weak muscles in the legs.

  • A change in your activity level, such as starting a new exercise plan or suddenly increasing the distance or pace you run
  • Running on hard or uneven surfaces
  • Wearing poorly fitting or worn-out trainers that don't cushion and support your feet properly
  • Being overweight
  • Having flat feet or feet that roll inwards (known as over-pronation)
  • Having tight calf muscles, weak ankles or a tight achilles tendon (the band of tissue connecting the heel to the calf muscle)
  • Poor core stability
  • Tight calf muscles and hamstrings
  • Weak quadriceps or foot arch muscles
  • Medial tibial stress syndrome (stress on your shin bone) - it's thought that repeated stress on your bone may cause injury to the bone tissue and the periosteum, the membrane covering it
  • Stress fractures - small breaks in your tibia, caused by stress on the bone
  • Muscle strain, where you overstretch certain muscles in the front of your leg and damage some of the muscle fibres
  • Tendon dysfunction - general overloading of the tendon leading to changes that cause swelling and pain

How do you treat shin splints?

Ice-packs are a great way to help relieve pain. Don't apply them directly to your skin. Instead, wrap the ice-pack in a towel and hold it in place for ten to 20 minutes at a time. You can repeat this several times a day if you need to.

The most important thing is to stop running and rest for a few weeks. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you may not need to completely rest. Talk to a sports physiotherapist and discuss ways you can modify your exercises to help get you running again and prevent the condition recurring.

Stretching your calf, shin and hamstring muscles regularly, as well as strengthening your glutes, core and quads, will also help treat and prevent shin splints.

Why am I getting Shin Splints?

There are a few causes I can see that may be causing my shin splints. Firstly I know I already have an over-pronation, something I have had shoes fitted specifically for and moulded insoles to help assist with.

I quite often vary the pace which I run, sometimes a mild jog, sometimes a full-on sprint so that could be another reason. I also run on very uneven surfaces - through forest trails, fields and twisting paths.

I wanted to look at the way I run, in particular, the angle that my foot hits the ground in relation to the rest of my body. Since there is no one else that can help me with this, I set my camera on a tripod as a ran past.

The scenes in the video show my running style over typical terrain, and the thing which stood out the most was how much of a heel strike I have, and how hard my toes slap down on impact. Heel striking like this effectively puts the breaks on and the force of impacting the ground goes straight up my leg, into my knees and hips. Surely this cannot be good.

I'm going to try to land more mid-foot next time out, and see if that makes any difference. I'll also try and keep a more consistent pace and back away from interval training. Any pro-runners offer any tips on how to retrain for better landings?

Also, it was apparent that I need a helmet cam with image stabilisation!!

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