Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Exploding shins!

Exploding shins everywhere! The indoor track high school triple jumpers and long jumpers I coach, some of the sprinters on the team, a client of mine at the Y… they all have exploding shins! What is going on? I’ve been fortunate throughout my running “career” to never have had shin splints, and have had to deal with them on a one-on-one basis with clients and athletes only a few times. But why did it seem like so many shin splint injuries were happening all of a sudden? I am certainly not an expert in the area, so it was time to look into what might be happening here…

As anyone who is reading this may know, shin splints are a lower leg injury that is fairly common in runners. You may also know that shin splints are more likely to occur when excess stress is put on the legs – such as going from being a couch potato to doing a fair amount of running or higher intensity-higher impact training. They may also be caused by muscle imbalances in the lower extremities, or tightness in the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantar muscles. While shin splints themselves are very painful, they can lead to stress fractures if ignored. This actually happened to a member at the Y: while training for the 2013 Boston Marathon, she developed shin splints. She ignored them, kept on running high mileage, and eventually was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the early spring of 2013. She ended up missing the 2013 Boston Marathon (maybe not the worst thing in the world) and is still rehabbing it to this day.
That was one incident and one person, however. Why did it seem like everyone but the distance runners on the track team were developing shin splints?

Well, the indoor track season started with about three weeks of general conditioning. Then the kids went on Christmas vacation, which ended up being extended due to snow storms and ice storms and wintery northeastern things like that. After two weeks off, which very few of the jumpers did anything during, they came back to the hard-surfaced runway of the indoor track and went right back into practicing something they may not have been quite ready for. Running and jumping on the hard surface is probably what caused their shin splints, along with many of the kids wearing improper or broken down footwear, which will contribute to shin splints as well. Other causes of shin splints could be pronation of the heal joint (subtalar joint), tight calf muscles, and flat feet, which is certainly possible with any of these kids.
As for my client whose shins seem to hurt every time she increases the speed on the treadmill, well, after examining her and talking with her I am led to believe that her calves are probably causing the problem. She has had the flu so she has been out a while, but when she returns I plan on assessing her with an overhead squat assessment to see if I can find any muscle imbalances in her legs.
The most basic and age-old ways to treat shin splints are as follows: ice, rest, and good footwear. However, while those treatments can help, strengthening the tibialis anterior is possibly the best thing to do to make sure shin splints go away and stay away.
One of the best and most simple exercises you can do for shin splints is heel walks. This is just as it sounds... Walk on your heels until fatigue sets in. This exercise can also be done while sitting in a chair by keeping your heels on the floor and raising your toes up. We've included this exercise in the dynamic warm-up part of practices, but don't do it as a true strengthening exercise. Maybe it's time to reconsider that...
Tight calf muscles can be corrected with static stretching and foam rolling, which is something we have been focusing on moreso this year than perhaps any other year. And of course proper footwear is a must. One of the jumpers had awful that wear completely broken down and several years old. I recommended he somehow invest in a new pair and he (suprisingly!) listened. Time will tell if that makes any kind of difference...
So, proper footwear, strengthening, and stretching should alleviate any shin problems you may have. And of course, resting doesn't hurt either. Hopefully we as coaches can get the kids' shins healthy again. 

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