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For many of us, myself included, running isn’t considered a strength. Oftentimes it’s because we fail to recognize that running is a skill that usually requires technique work and practice. It’s this misconception that running is like “riding a bike” in the sense that we never forget how to do it, but the bad news for many of us is that our bodies actually have forgotten how to run well. In the name of conquering our “goats” we head out for long runs failing to realize how long it has been since the last time we ran longer than the 1/3 mile laps around the block or the 400m runs during our conditioning workouts. On the flip-side, some of you log a dozen or more miles a week and push through pain and poor technique in the name of getting your miles in. Either way, overuse injuries often rear their ugly heads and shin splints are one of the most common overuse injuries from running.
Shin splints can present as pain on the medial (inner) or lateral (outer) portion of the tibia (shin bone). Common causes that I’ll address today are poor running mechanics, poor mobility, and lacking recovery habits.
Poor running mechanics-heel striking being the main culprit. As Justin from 70sBig.com explains, when a runner’s heel strikes (the heel is the first part of the the foot to strike the ground in the running stride) the ankle is in dorsiflexion (think toes up). The muscles responsible for dorsiflexion (primarily the tibialis anterior) are engaged, and our weight settles on our heel causing the front our foot to slap the ground. When going through this “heel strike, forefoot flop”, the ankle is moving into plantar-flexion (toe down) while trying to maintain dorsi-flexion (toe up). The struggle that ensues is the crux of shin splints. The dorsiflexion muscles of a heel-striker work against the force of your bodyweight slapping the forefoot to the ground, and this eccenctric loading is what causes the damage. The eccentric (lowering) part of any movement or lift is what causes the most muscle damage (lunges, good mornings, bench press), so if your tibialis anterior is working eccecntrically every single stride you take, hopefully you can see where shin splints might develop. Improve running mechanics by performing drills to reinforce the concept of a forefoot strike and pulling your foot from the ground. For many this idea seems like a waste of time at first, but with diligent practice that can be part of a warm-up routine you’ll feel your running stride transform and feel less pain after.
Poor mobility-typically lacking mobility in one’s ankle plays a part in the onset of shin splints. Tight heel cords, calves, or tibialis anteriors can all modify the way a person runs and absorbs the ground reaction force upon impact with the ground. The longer or harder we run the more inflexibilities can damage our bodies. Ensuring ankle range of motion in all planes isn’t limited or painful is key to preventing or recovering from shin splints.
Lack of recovery-Our goal is to stay ahead of injuries but many times we don’t know we have an issue until we feel the aftermath, as is usually the case with shin splints. This is where a focus on recovery can make a huge difference is preventing further injury and minimize the effect on the rest of our training. Besides taking time to physically recover, things like ice massage after workouts, hydration, a restful night’s sleep, nutrition, stretching, and rolling are all tools at your disposal to assist in your recovery. Also, 70’s Big posted some helpful foot drills that if done every day can strengthen the musculature around your ankles and along with technique and mobility work, help you stave off flare-ups of shin splints.
Refer to the mobilitywod.com videos below for some mobility and recovery ideas specific to shin splints.
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