With nicer weather finally here, most people have a much greater urge to be outdoors, and fitness or regular activity seems like a welcome part of the day.
Running is a common activity of choice for dealing with spring fever. Nothing but a pair of shoes, maybe some sunglasses and you are ready to enjoy the fresh air and, hopefully, melt off some of that winter accumulation.
If this sounds like you, this column will contain some valuable information that can make your running experience more comfortable, and more than short lived.
Already I’ve had numerous encounters with motivated individuals who are on rest and recovery from running-related injuries. Shin splints or anterior leg pain are a common occurrence in new runners. This discomfort can take the form of various injuries, from mild to serious.
Most commonly muscle imbalance and poor running stride can produce pain leading to stress fractures of the tibia. With proper training and conditioning, this condition may be resolved in the early stages with immediate rest, and relieved with progressive conditioning.
At the point of fracture a painful recovery of extended rest will be required.
More serious are varying degrees of compartment syndrome.
Mild to serious compartment syndrome can sometimes be identified by a numbness of the foot that occurs shortly after starting activity and does not lessen as the muscles and connective tissue warm and receive increased blood flow.
It’s hard to discern, as misaligned hips may produce a similar condition that is easily correctable. However, compartment syndrome should not be taken lightly.
The result of compartment syndrome is greatly reduced or restricted blood flow that leads to damaged and dying tissue.
The solution to this problem is immediate rest. Specific stretching and a change in running style may be necessary to prevent reoccurrence.
If compartment syndrome is not treated in the early stages it may lead to surgery, which will also require a long and painful recovery.
Here are a few tips to avoid shin splints and related injuries:
• Replace your shoes — Even if they appear to be in good condition, maybe they are only a month or two old, I would recommend you buy a new pair of shoes for the purpose of running and don’t use them for anything else. A shoe’s job is to provide cushion and dissipate the impact forces of the running stride. With less than perfect running posture or a few extra pounds, this cushioning will break down faster. Today’s shoes are better than ever at dissipating the force, but the materials break down relatively quickly. I would recommend you replace your shoes as often as every couple of months.
• Start out slow, and I mean that in every sense of the word — You shouldn’t head off the front step at the speed or pace you expect to maintain for the duration, nor should you expect to run what might seem like a half-marathon on your first day. The body needs time to elevate circulation and oxygen supply to achieve what is referred to as “steady-state”. Steady-state is the point at which the body has engaged the necessary resources and systems to supply the maximum amount of blood flow, oxygen and nutrients for an extended duration. If you start out too quickly, the body is forced to use its short-term energy reserves, severely hampering overall performance and increasing the likelihood of injury.
• Stop to stretch and promote muscle balance — Once you are warm, it’s a good idea to stop for a few minutes to stretch. Stretching calves is essential, but providing contraction to anterior tibialis is critical. Most people won’t even know what that is, but where there is a large visible muscle belly on the back of the leg, people forget there is an opposing muscle that works in conjunction on the front of the shin. Women are more prone than men to anterior pain as regular days in high heels go a long ways to promote calf versus anterior tib imbalances. Stretch your calves, then put on your favourite song and tap your foot to the music for a minute. Contracting the anterior tibialis is that simple. You need raise only the toes and the forefoot slightly off the ground while keeping your calf planted. Stretch for 20 seconds, then perform 20 reps on each foot. Do this daily and you will greatly lessen your chances for shin splints and related injuries.
• Drink plenty of water — Water promotes recovery and greater performance in numerous ways. It’s essential to replace lost fluids. Even better, add a pinch of sea salt to the water. It will help to maintain electrolyte balance. As a result, you will find your performance will not very nearly as much at times when the temperature fluctuates over the course of your run.
Cabel McElderry is a local personal trainer and nutrition coach. For more information on fitness and nutrition, visit the Fitness F/X website at www.fitnessfx.com.