I found one that started at 20 km a week and, within two months, would take you to 80 km a week. Now, anyone who knows about running would have told me that this was an insane schedule, and a dangerous one. Within three weeks I was rocking shin splints, and like an idiot I kept running on them, thinking I could push past the pain and fast-track it to marathon level fitness.
What I didn’t know is that pushing yourself with shin splints can lead to stress fractures, and stress fractures can lead to the end of your running career.
Luckily, I stopped being an idiot in time to give my legs a chance to heal, and to give myself a more realistic running schedule.
But shin splints are a reality for many of us who took a break from running and want to get back into it. And stress fractures are a Big Bad—If you push yourself too hard, you’ll never engage in high-impact fitness again.
What are shin splints and how do I get them?
Shin splints happen when you do too much, too quickly. Often your calves build up muscle faster than the tissues on your shinbone, and begin to inflame and injure your shin muscles. Inflamed muscles put stress on your shinbone, and the end result is injured legs and the kind of soreness that doesn’t go away after a couple of days.
Usually I push through this kind of pain. Mind over matter, right?
Even for seasoned runners, it’s hard to get the lead out when you start a jog. Your muscles are used to sitting in the office, and now they feel creaky and sore and uncooperative. Usually you’ll force yourself to keep going, until you feel limber and lubricated and the endorphins start kicking in.
So when you find yourself with sore shins, you might think that all you need is a couple grimaces and a good run to get rid of the pain.
Well, you might find yourself unable to run again for the rest of your life. Shin splints have a nasty habit of developing into stress fractures. When your leg muscles become so fatigued with inflammation, they can’t absorb the shock you’re putting on them, and the bones begin to get tiny hairline cracks. If you keep doing it, they can become bigger and bigger. And that’s not good. Continuing to run with stress fractures can lead to permanent injury.
How do I avoid shin splints?
If you think you’re at risk for shin splints, then you likely need to slow it down a notch. Your body works at its own pace—working it too hard only leads to a greater chance of injury.
Make sure you are giving yourself plenty of rest-time, such as every other day. Make sure to include proper stretching, and shin-strengthening exercises. Stretch and stand on your tip-toes once in a while to help build up the muscles on your tibia.
Okay, I think I have shin splints. What do I do?
Stop running. I’m serious. Give yourself, like, a week of rest for your shins. If they’re really bad, settle in for two weeks. Do cardio, upper body workouts and low-impact fitness. Exercises like stationary biking will also help you stay in shape.
Ice your shins and take some anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen. When you start running again, give yourself a more gradual schedule, and continue doing strengthening exercises.
When we were kids, we were taught the harder we work, the better our performance. That kind of thinking is what leads to dancers getting arthritis when they’re twenty, and it’s what leads runners to forcing themselves into the emergency room.
Take it slower. You’ll be all the stronger for it.