If you've ever been unlucky enough to suffer from shin splints - you'll know just how annoying they can really be. Not only can calf injuries and shin splints leave you searching for the painkillers and cursing your new "more active" lifestyle, but they can also make completing everyday tasks more difficult, so that you end up sitting on the bench of life, rather than getting out there and experiencing all it has to offer.
Shin splints are typically represented by a sharp and nagging pain in the front of your leg - across the tibia. They happen most commonly during, and after exercise, and the pain is usually bad enough that running, and even walking, can begin to seem impossible. So what exactly can you do about them - how do you avoid calf injuries and still live an active lifestyle?
Fortunately, we have a collection of some of the most effective tips and tricks to help you prevent shin splints, avoid calf injuries, and make the most out of your wellbeing, from investing in good shoes and calf sleeves for compression, to strengthening your leg muscles properly.
What Are Shin Splints, Anyway?
Before we cover the numerous ways you can fight back against the pain of shin splints, it's worth looking closer at what these injuries actually are. Known medically as "medial tibial stress syndrome", shin splints are one of the most common injuries experienced by walkers and runners. Indeed, studies have found that more than 20% of runners typically experience shin splints. If that's not enough, research examining naval recruits engaging in basic training found that shin splint occurrence was as high as 35% - representing a greater need to avoid calf injuries.
So why are we plagued with this terrible pain whenever we try to get more active? If you think about the biomechanics of gait, it's pretty simple. Whether you're walking or running, each time you take a step, your foot hits the floor with more than twice the impact of your complete body weight - placing a great deal of stress on your bones, muscles, tendons, and joints. In particular, whenever you move normally, your shin bone bends and bows under the pressure - a repetitive stress that can result in shin splints.
Prevent Shin Splints and Avoid Calf Injuries
So should we avoid running or walking entirely? Of course not.
Shin splints are a pain (literally), but they don't have to be a season-ending injury if you're willing to address them quickly, and properly. While pain around your tibia and the surrounding muscles is uncomfortable, it can be addressed with prompt treatment, and there are even ways that you can work to prevent shin splints in the future, lowering your chances of experiencing the same pain time and time again.
Here are some of the best ways that you can get started to avoid calf injuries, and prevent shin splints.
1. Proceed with Caution
First of all, though the latest evidence surrounding the treatment of shin splints doesn't pinpoint a specific treatment method with any amount of significant confidence, many experts agree that the injury is caused when the bone is overloaded with stress. In fact, research has found that individuals with a lower than average history of activity, who then decide to pick up running are around 2.5 times more likely to experience shin splints. Usually, this is a result of the bones in the legs not being properly strengthened to accept high-impact forces associated with regular walking and running.
With that information in mind, it makes sense that the first way to prevent shin splints would be to take things easy. Reduce the amount of high-impact exercise you're doing to allow the area to heal, then take care to increase only one aspect of your workout routine at a time (duration, frequency, or speed). Ease yourself into a lifestyle that involves regular activity, and you're far less likely to run the risk of injury.
2. Invest in Yourself
Next in our list of ways to avoid calf injuries and prevent shin splints - consider switching out your running shoes, adding orthotics to the mix, or investing in a set of calf sleeves for compression. The more you invest in equipment that's designed to minimize the impact that your shin is forced to absorb during walking or running, the less discomfort you'll feel.
For example, research has linked over-pronation to the development of shin splints - a result that comes from a considerable amount of torque inserted into the lower leg whenever the foot hits the ground then rolls inwards. Shoes with orthotics and built-in stability can help to reduce this type of unwanted motion. At the same time, calf sleeves for compression can help to keep your muscle supported as you move, absorbing some of the excess vibrations that move through the leg as you run, or walk, and therefore minimizing your discomfort.
3. Loosen Up and Strengthen.
Awkward, tight calf muscles are painful enough in themselves - but they also place additional stress on your shins. To prevent shin splints and keep your calf muscles supple, remember to stretch and loosen the muscles before you engage in a run, or go out for a pretty intensive walk.
At the same time, if you want to avoid calf injuries, you're going to need to improve your leg strength. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that runners with stronger calves' experience fewer tibial stress fractures. Try adding a few of the following strength exercises to your routine, while using calf sleeves for compression to enhance your stability:
- Calf raises: Standing with feet slightly apart, push onto your toes, pause, and lower back down.
- Toe walks: Stand on your tip toes and walk forward as far as you can.
- Foot pumps: Lie with your legs straight out in front of you - toes pointed upwards, then point your toes back towards your body, then into their original position.
- Heel drops: Stand on an elevated platform and place your weight on your left foot, while lowering the heel around 90 degrees, then raise back up and switch sides.