Six Sinister Running Injuries: What to Do and How to Avoid Them

Oftentimes, injuries are an unavoidable part of being a runner. As a runner, or a coach of runners, you’ve most likely encountered one (or several) of the injuries listed in this article.

It is important to have the right mind set when approaching injuries, most are not career ending, just be patient and learn from them. Read the prevention strategies to avoid these most common running injuries all together.

1. Shin Splints

Shin splints are the bane of many runners’ careers. This is one of those injuries that plagues the running community and at one time or another, has probably impacted you as well.

Shin splints are typically any inflammation in your lower leg that runs along the shin bone and causes pain on impact and toe off.

Shin splints are rarely anything serious, and typically a result of increasing training load too quick for muscles to adapt. Occasionally, shin splints can be something more serious like a stress fracture in the shin bone.

However, if you’ve had the common form of shin splints, you’ll know the pain, and it is very different than that of a stress fracture.

Causes

The most common cause of shin splints is increasing training intensity too fast. This is an issue because it doesn’t give your muscles/tendons in the lower leg time to adapt to the stresses and the force of running.

Other causes:

  • Bad shoes
  • Hard running surface
  • Imbalance in stabilizing muscles

Symptoms

Symptoms include dull or sharp pain in the front or side of the lower leg. Tenderness to the touch is also a sign of inflammation along the shin bone that may be a warning sign of shin splints to come.

Most shin splints are an annoyance that will go away with proper rest/recovery. They usually are only in one leg at a time, and are typically bearable to run through, though that’s ill-advised.

Any acute, radiating pain, may be a symptom of something more severe, such as a stress fracture. See a doctor to determine whether you have a case of shin splints or something else.

Recovery

Recovery is fairly standard for shin splints.

Follow the R.I.C.E. formula above, the key being rest. Let the inflammation subside and you should be feeling better quickly.

Take Advil or other anti-inflammatory if swelling is persistent and doesn’t respond to icing alone. Always be careful to follow dosage recommendations on label, and take for no longer than a 5-7 days.

Wear compression socks, or a compression sleeve whenever possible. I like the CEP brand or the 2XU brand. Both are great socks for recovery and training. (I ran Boston in the 2XU model last year and had no calf issues during, or soreness in the days following the marathon).

A great tactic for icing shin splints is the dixie cup method. Fill a dixie cup with water, and put it the freezer. Once fully frozen, take it out and cut the lip of the cup and peel back the material to expose the ice. From there, just slowly rub the ice along the shin, up and down, in small circular motions. Do this for 10-15 minutes.

Roll Out

Some gentle rolling out with a hand roller or a foam roller will also promote blood flow to the region and aid in the recovery process. Be gentle, as your shins will most likely be very tender to the touch. You can increase pressure as your condition improves.

Stretch

Stretching, as always, is highly important in your recovery from shin splints. Making sure you stretch all the major muscle groups in your legs, paying special attention to your calves, arches, and shins.

Strengthen

Strengthening exercises are important for shin splint recovery and prevention. Lower leg exercises have the most potential for preventing future episodes.

  • Band exercises, for strengthening your ankle, and shin muscles
  • Calf exercises – calf raises
  • Heel walks
  • Balancing exercises

When can I run again?

Just listen to your body. Wait until the inflammation has subsided and you’re able to walk and hop pain free. Then you can go back out and SLOWLY work back into your normal running routine. The key is taking the gradual approach and building up slowly.

Usually shin splints can last anywhere from a couple days to 2 weeks, but after a few days most athletes are able to get back out there for some light jogging.

If you’re concerned about losing fitness, supplement any light jogging with a secondary, low impact activity like pool running, which is a great cardio workout but won’t aggravate your shins.

Prevention

The number one way to prevent shin splints is to train smart. Sometimes they are unavoidable, but often times just building up gradually with mileage, never increasing mileage or intensity more than 5-10% every couple of weeks will keep you shin splint free.

Another critical factor to preventing shin splints is switching out your shoes on a regular schedule, make sure you are not running in worn out shoes with compressed cushioning, or beat up outsoles.

Swap out your shoes every 400 miles or so, more often if you wear your running shoes for other activities (I don’t recommend doing this).

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