If you’re a runner, you either have personal experience, or know someone who has had a run-in with shin splints. Shin splints, also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, are usually characterized by general pain in the anterior leg that continues post-exercise. This pesky pain can hinder any runner’s stride and sneak up on your training. Fortunately, there’s a way to prevent them.
Running long distances requires the calf and tibial muscles to work overtime. They can grow inflamed and even tear a bit of muscle away from the bone. Since they usually result from a strength imbalance between your calves and the muscles on the front of your shin, the best prevention is localized training and stretching.
Yet even the best-intentioned runners can fall victim to shin splints, as training for races sometimes requires more than our bodies are ready for. Doctors recommend decreasing or even stopping all impact training to cure shin splints. But what’s a runner to do when the pain strikes and they still have to train? Rehab and compression.
Why Compression Works
Look, we get it. Being an active person means you don’t want to miss your daily run because of a little pain. Slide a compression sleeve on your leg before heading out, and you’ll likely feel much better. That’s because compression helps keep the musculature aligned properly, reduces muscle oscillation, and reduces unnecessary stress.
Imagine your muscles as gears in a complex system. If anything is slightly out of line, the gears grind against each other and wear down. That’s what happens with knots and tightness in your muscles. Wearing good compression, however, helps groove natural movement and acts as a sort of barrier to keep the gears from slipping. Compression also helps manage inflammation from running, which allows you to recovery faster in between sessions.
Stress Fractures and Compartment Syndrome
Stress fractures are a common overuse injury from pounding the pavement. When the muscles of the lower leg and calf become fatigued, the absorption of force falls primarily on the tibia. Compartment syndrome comes from swelling of muscle and connective tissue within certain areas of fascia (or “compartments”) that gets trapped and builds pressure. Both of these injuries are quite serious and should receive medical attention. If you have pain to the touch in a very specific spot, tightness to the point of burning, or a noticeable bulge in the muscle, these may be signs of something more serious.
As these injuries are a result of stress over time, runners should always stay on top of prevention. Follow these guidelines during your training to sprint past your best times pain-free.
- Wear proper footwear for your arch and replace every few months
- Train the muscles of the lower leg to resist fatigue
- Wear compression after training to remove inflammation and recover faster
- Take care to stretch and perform soft tissue treatment after runs
Another common overuse problem runners can experience is a muscle strain in the calf, hamstring or quad. Having a strain doesn’t mean you’re down for the count. However, certain measures should be taken to prevent a strain from upgrading to a full tear. Muscles, like anything else, can get overworked. Your body is a complex mechanical system, and when certain things aren’t firing in order, problems arise.
The first step to treating a muscle strain is time off. There’s no substitute for rest. But, if you’re anything like me, you’re stubborn and want to keep going.
Try and take a bit of rest, however difficult it may be. Then, upon return to training, protect your legs with compression following a detailed warm-up routine. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for specifics in your case. But be diligent with front loading your recovery, and your muscles won’t stretch themselves to the limit when you go out for your run.