Shin Dig - by Kirsten Alexander

Whether it's a dull ache or a shooting pain up the front of your lower leg, anyone who has experienced shin splints can tell you that it isn't just about a bit of discomfort. It should be taken seriously, too. Although shin splints is one of the most common running injuries, the condition is also preventable. The medical term for shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome, and it occurs along your tibia, which connects to other muscles, tendons and bone tissue to help you move around.

RUN BABY RUN

Whether you're a professional or just starting out, the key is moderation. It's well known that starting too harshly can get you into all sorts of trouble, and overdoing it won't do you any favours. There are four muscles involved in shin splints. These are in the heel and calf, and allow your heel to lift and your foot arches to roll upward. If these muscles aren't working the way they should - specifically if your running style isn't great - your bones and muscles are in conflict instead of working together.

If you've experienced shin splints before, it may occur more easily again - even after you've had adequate rest. One of the reasons for this is that any injury results in tiny tears in the muscle, and your body produces scar tissue to fix the problem. This, coupled with muscle memory, can cause shin splints to recur quite easily. This means you may need to change your running style.

SWITCH IT UP

You may not know what you're doing wrong - after all, you've probably been running the same way since you first began to run. It's not all that simple to put down an ideal running stance or pace, simply because every person is different. But there are some tips to prevent the danger of injury:

  1. If your goal is to run ten kilometres, start with one and slowly increase the distance. If you over-train, you will be more susceptible to injury.
  2. Land on the middle of your foot, rather than on the heel or on your tiptoes.
  3. Keep your body relatively straight, with your hips under your shoulders. Try not to lean too far forward as you'll end up on the tips of your toes.
  4. Keep your stride medium to avoid overextending your muscles.
  5. A solid pair of running shoes is helpful in avoiding injury. Invest in a pair that is both comfortable and supportive, and change your shoes fairly frequently (every 500km is a good marker). Shoes are especially important if you are running on an uneven or hard surface.
  6. Warm up before you run and slow down before you're completely finished. Nurture your muscles.

Be mindful of what your muscles feel like when you're running. If there's a bit of a twinge near your shin, check where your feet are landing and how wide your stride is.

Cross training is a great way to allow your running muscles a break while still keeping up your daily activity. Try swimming as a gentler way to exercise in between running days.

Yoga is also a great foil for shin splints - stretching all your muscles and increasing strength and muscle-bone communication is important. A bit of ice and some natural anti-inflammatories will also help with any pain you're experiencing. Rest is essential.

TIP: Alternate walking on your heels for 30 seconds with 30 seconds of regular walking, and repeat this four times. It will help with recovery and prevention. Also, flex and point your toes anytime you're sitting - this can become an unconscious habit that'll strengthen the muscles that will help prevent shin splints.

DO IT ANYWAY

If you're considering running as a way to get fit or lose weight, it's one of the easiest exercises to get into. The only equipment required is a good pair of running shoes. But take care to build up to your run slowly -  take a power walk first and then ease into a run, finishing off with a walk again. Check your stride and how your foot lands, and keep your arms swinging freely at your sides. If you're nervous about a long run, interval training is a great way to get your heart rate up and burn calories. All you need to do is sprint and then power walk. Use street lamp poles as your divider ' sprint to one and walk to the next. Always stretch before and after a run.

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