How To Avoid Shin Splints By Joel Bergeron, MS, CSCS*D, ASCM HFS, USATF L2 Jumps/Sprints/ITS Volume 1, Edition 2, May 2014 Welcome to Granite State Sports Science! This month we explore one of the most common, preventable injuries out there: shin splints. Many athletes who decide to start working out after a long stretch off are at high risk for this injury. Shin splints are a debilitating, painful experience generally found on the front of the lower leg. It can literally make walking impossible ‐ forget about your performance! We’re going to examine what exactly “shin splints” are, how to work on preventing them, and how to heal the injury. Shin splints are called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). The name refers to the location and tissues/bones that are affected. Basically this is a fancy way of saying, “stress on the shins.” They are characterized by pain ranging from sharp to dull discomfort that may radiate from the shin into the calve, Achilles tendon area, knees, and ankles. They can appear suddenly or gradually worsen, and may go away quickly or come back quickly. The cause of shin splints is typically due to one of two factors. Either 1) overtraining, which is typified by doing too much, too fast – particularly incorrect prescription of activities such as plyometrics (jump training), long running, or just an unreasonable abrupt increase in the volume of activity, or 2) biomechanical errors in running/sprint mechanics. Sometimes people will say they have “flat feet.” While there may be some people out there with “flatter” feet than others, the human body does not jump evolutionary cycles very frequently, and chances are your gait (walking, jogging, sprinting) mechanics are probably the true culprit. From a physiologic standpoint, shin splints are extreme soreness and pain of the muscles of the front of the shin (particularly the anterior tibialis and peroneus tertius). These muscles are responsible for keeping your foot “in check” every time it strikes the ground. When your heel lands these muscles contract to slow down the front of your foot from smacking the ground. Just as if you did too many sit‐ups at once, when you overload these muscles they become sore. The only difference is we have to walk everywhere we go. So, if you overwork these muscles, you never really give them time to rest if you are constantly using them while they are sore. So how do we avoid shin splints? The best and easiest way is to prevent having them in the first place. The first thing is to begin by easing into workouts. I generally see two different populations who have shin splints. Young people who are going through puberty and have physically immature bodies, and adults who have not been training in a sensible manner. Here are a few tips for avoiding shin splints: 1. Ease into workouts. If you haven’t been training with any level of consistency or intensity, don’t try to go out there on day #1 and win a championship. Think of it this way, if your body is accustomed to not working out, increasing your activity level to 3‐5 days during week one is a huge shock to the system. Instead, slowly increase your training days. For instance, week 1, do 2‐3 days spread apart. Week 2, do 3‐4 days, week 3, do 4‐5 days, etc. This is a gradual progression, which allows for adequate recovery time. 2. Give yourself rest. The easiest way to cause shin splints is to progress too fast, or never allow time for the body to recuperate after a hard workout. Remember, you can’t improve if you never give your body time to adapt to the training stress you were just exposed to. Alternate hard and easy or moderate workouts. If Monday is a hard workout, Tuesday should not be hard, Wednesday might be moderate, Thursday is hard again, etc. You should also consider how long you’ve been training for – if you’ve worked out for 4 weeks, generally the 5th week should be very low or filled with rest. 3. Buy new shoes. It constantly amazes me what people wear for footwear and how long they’ve been wearing it. You need to make sure your shoe is the right size, not too big, not too small. Also if the treads are substantially worn down, pick yourself up a new pair. Most shoes are not rated to last more than 6 months of regular exercise, if that. I see people wearing shoes that are clearly past their service life, yet they wonder why they have lower leg and back pain. Remember, your foot is where all the shock of impact is absorbed. If you have worn‐out shoes, your body now must sustain that impact. 4. Warm‐Up Smart. Remember a good warm‐up involves an “exercise induced sweat.” This means you are sweating as a result of moving around, rather than sweating due to environmental factors, such as heat. Also make sure your warm‐up involves simple ankle rolls and definitely lower body exercises. Just jogging or cycling is not that effective. Perform activities that involve a variety of movements rather than just a repetitive motion (such as jogging). 5. Work on flexibility. Lower body flexibility is very important and very simple to do. Calf, ankle, thigh, and hamstring stretches go a long way in helping the leg function properly. 6. Run with good posture. A frequent cause of “flat feet” is running with bad posture. Good posture is characterized by an upright position, good arm mechanics, and lifting the legs. Bad posture is just the opposite. I know that they don’t give out degrees in biomechanics at the grocery store, so if you don’t know how to analyze body mechanics, consult the appropriate professional, such as a qualified strength and conditioning coach with demonstrated and legitimate experience. 7. Roll your foot with a golf ball. Although shin splints are caused by lower leg overtraining and imbalances, the foot contributes to the problem as well. Take a golf ball and put your foot (with no shoe) on it. Roll up and down, left to right, etc. This will improve your foot health and reduce stress at the ankle and consequently the lower leg. 8. Avoid hard surfaces. Running on concrete, asphalt, or tile flooring for long periods of time are a great way to destroy your shins. Where possible, choose suspended wood floors (aka gymnasiums), composite turf, grass, or trails. The ground absorbs much of the impact and your body and joints take less abuse. If you have shin splints, here are some things to help get rid of them: 1. Rest. This is the most important way to get rid of them. This doesn’t mean you have to stop, but it does mean you may need to ride a bicycle to maintain your conditioning while they go away. Riding a bicycle is non weight bearing and allows the tissue to work but under a substantially less amount of impact (little to none). 2. Ice. Placing ice on the injured tissue promotes blood flow and speeds the healing process. It also helps reduce swelling which is what triggers the pain response. 3. Compression. Wrapping your shins physically compresses the tissue and helps reduce swelling. It also provides some support to reduce load on the affected tissue. 4. Get Help. Go see a physical therapist or athletic trainer (not a personal trainer). Physicians will rarely tell you do anything other than take pills and stop. This is NOT the best way of getting rid of shin splints. You need to do rehabilitation and that is what a physical therapist or athletic trainer is for. Strength and conditioning coaches can also help you with this – but make sure you visit a qualified professional – not just a person who’s given him/herself a title! The take home message is that you don’t have to get shin splints if you train smart. Easing into workouts in a sensible manner, giving your body rest when needed, and working on flexibility all help avoid this issue. The best approach is to avoid the problem in the first place through preventative actions. If shin splints do occur, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms quickly and take corrective actions. Using this approach will help you train long and have success in your performances! What’s the difference between a champion and 2nd place? Usually, not much. The difference lies in the training that leads up to competition. The goal of GSSS is to provide scientifically based, practical information for coaches, parents, and athletes, in the hopes of enhancing athletic performance and reducing the chance of injury through professional strength & conditioning practices by legitimate, qualified coaching (involving a college degree in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or biomechanics, AND professional coursework – NOT just a weekend certification as seen by 95% of ‘trainers’). GSSS provides information on sports science, physiology, sports nutrition, and training theory related to the field of strength and conditioning. Each article describes how to properly execute specific exercises and routines related to athletic performance for all sports and athletes. Where possible, it discusses the ideas behind training theory and common misconceptions on how to prepare for athletic contests. If you enjoyed reading GSSS, subscribe to the monthly e‐newsletter by visiting http://nlpstrength.com. Each issue is chocked full of great tips for maximizing your training and improving performance in a safe manner. More info is available at the website or by calling 627‐7500. If you have a topic of interest, please email the author at [email protected] . Where possible questions are answered in upcoming issues of GSSS or featured as a main topic. About the Author Bergeron, a native of Keene, NH, is the former NH state director for the National Strength & Conditioning Association and an active local writer. He previously served as the strength & conditioning coordinator for the Manchester Wolves, a professional arena2 football team, a NCAA Division I track coach and university instructor at Florida International University, S&C coordinator for SNHU women’s basketball, S&C coordinator for the New Hampton School Men’s Hockey Team, and a member of the NH Governors Council for Physical Fitness & Health. He holds a masters degree in exercise and sport science with a concentration in strength and conditioning and seven certifications including the NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist with Distinction, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, USATF Level 1 coach, Level 1 instructor (to train other coaches), Level 2 Jumps, Level 2, sprints, and formerly NSPA Certified Conditioning Specialist. He is a sought-after national clinician who has presented at and directed more than 100 different clinics, events, and conferences at the local, state, regional, national, and international level, develops educational DVDs and distance learning courses for continuing education, and is a published writer for a variety of coaching magazines and books. Bergeron is also a practicing regional track and field athlete in the shot put and discus. The Following Organizations Support The Growth Of New Hampshire Athletics Through Distribution of This Free E-Newsletter To Provide Sport Science Education To Their Constituents: Interested In helping to educate and improve our great state? Become a distributor of GSSS and help New Hampshire reduce injuries and enhance performance. Please contact the author, Joel Bergeron, at [email protected] or 603-627-7500 to help distribute GSSS. APPROPRIATE FOR ALL SPORTS, ALL SKILL LEVELS, STARTING AT AGE 9. Disclaimer: Every attempt has been made to make the information in this article accurate. The information in this article has been developed to provide guidelines for a sports training program. Since every individual responds differently to physical activity and nutritional intake it is the responsibility of the reader to seek the guidance of a qualified conditioning professional or to insure that he/she is qualified to follow the exercise routines, nutritional guidelines, and activity habits contained herein. NLP LLC does not accept any responsibility for the use or misuse of the information in this article. Please consult a physician before embarking on a program of physical activity and a nutritionist before significantly modifying your diet. The intellectual material contained herein is ©NLP LLC, Manchester, NH. 603‐627‐7500 http://nlpstrength.com. It may not be altered in any manner without expressed written permission of the author(s). . This e‐newsletter may be freely distributed without alteration so long as the original author(s) are credited.
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