Shin splints hurt! When I started running I was making great progress, and then all of a sudden shin splints hit, and I wasn’t able to train as much as I wanted or as long as I wanted. The feeling at first just feels like muscle ache, but in the shin bone, and when running with shin splints I’m not sure if I am in pain or not. Its very strange, but this is something other people have said to me too! It doesn’t hurt as much as really ache. If this sounds like you, or if you have started running then hopefully this post will help you cure your shin splints.
Deep muscle massage
By far the most effective, but also the most painful. It is probably better to get someone else to do this on your calves using their fingers, but you can do it yourself with your thumbs.
On the inside of your leg massage (hard) the calf muscle close to the shin, slowly working your way down the its length. You should be able to feel little ‘bubbles’ or lumps in your leg, gently press them (it hurts) and increase the pressure on them. You should spend about 10mins on each leg. It will feel like your calves are bruised at the end of it.
I have been told that these bubbles are formed by lactic acid which hasn’t been removed properly, and they cause the muscle to pull on the shin which causes the pain.
Applying ice to your calves after a run has really helped me. Ice packs are an easy option and you can wrap them around your legs, but filling a deep container with water and ice it works just as well. I have found that this stops the bubbles forming in most of my calf muscle, and helps to reduce chronic inflammation, which can cause further problems. From doing this, the ache seems to move to behind the shin bone lower down. I think the ice temperature doesn’t quite penetrate that deep, and so the bubble form there. Focusing the deep muscle massage there has helped no end.
This is the most boring part of a run, but it has helped stop my shin splints coming back. Any calf muscle stretches after a run are a must. A good one is where you stand on the end of a step on one foot, and drop the heel down – you should really feel the calf stretching! Do this for 3-4 mins a leg, alternating every min or so. I’ve covered proper stretching in this video which you might find useful to watch.
During your run, your calf muscles are in a high demand for blood, so a lot of blood is sent to the calf muscles. This large volume of blood isn’t a problem, because as the calf muscles contract and relax, they help pump the back round the body. However, when you stop running, your body keeps pumping blood to the calf and there is nothing pumping it away. This causes blood pooling, which s where blood effectively sits in the calf muscle. Here it is unable to wash away the lactic acid (allowing those bubbles to form) and causes shin splints.
To avoid this, have a 10min walk after your run, do your after run stretches, and maybe apply some ice too. This slowly reduces the demand of blood to the calf muscles, but keeps the blood in the calf muscles circulating. All these things make ‘going for a quick run’ a bit more drawn out, but it is definitely worth doing, even if you haven’t got shin splits.
Cod liver oil/ Fish oil
We had some people asking if cod liver oil, fish oil, or even coconut oil helped shin splints. This isn’t something I am aware of or had any experience with, but the omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and so there is a good chance that they will help to reduce the swelling to some extent. Alone, I can’t see them having a significant benefit, to in combination with stretching, massaging and ice, they are a good idea (besides, most people could do with increasing their omega-3s). I’ve done a comparison of a number of fish oils/ cod liver oils which you may find useful if you are considering getting a fish oil or cod liver oil supplement.
Hope this helps, and if you have other tips to removing shin splints please let me know, and I’ll add them to the list.
Image courtesy of ks_marks