We just had the ING night marathon here in Luxembourg and this weekend the Stockholm marathon is taking place. What do these two things have in common other than being great marathons? A lot of people will have pain along the front of the lower leg after the race. This is often a case of too much too soon, together with a non optimal running technique, and of course the more tired you get the worse your technique will be.
So maybe you have just recently been taking part in a race, or you have just upped the speed or kilometers in your training lately because the weather has been great (and who has time for a calculated steady increase then?), and now you have been feeling some pain along the front of your lower legs aka shins. The common misconception is that there is always an inflammation present when there is pain there, which is commonly called shin splints. So, most likely you will start downing the Ibuprofen to get rid of the alleged inflammation.
Before you do any of that, please do yourself a huge favor and check the muscles along the shin before jumping to any conclusions, especially m.tibialis anterior. If the muscles along the shins are tight they can cause a lot of pain there, and they can also refer pain to underneath the foot. More often than not, “shin splints” is simply a case of very, very tight muscles. It is very easy to mobilize these muscles yourself with a lacrosse ball. Check out the videos below for easy instructions on how to mobilize the muscles along the inside and outside of the shins. In the second video I do not agree about what she says about not using a lacrosse ball (she says it is too hard) as I think that it is very easy to adjust the pressure yourself. But of course, if you have different types of balls do try them out and see what works best for you.
video for mobilizing the inside of the shins
Sometimes the reason why these muscles are so tight could be because you are new to the sport, have new shoes, have added kilometers or intensity, or simply had a city trip where you were just walking a lot more than usual. If that is the case then doing this mobility exercise everyday for a minimum of a week, plus adding the couch stretch should more or less take care of the problem, depending of course on how severe the pain was from the beginning. If your shins are tight most likely your calves are tight also, so you might as well give them some love too. Dive into your mobility work and you will back into your running routine very quickly.
But, let’s say you went down Ibuprofen alley instead, and didn’t do any mobility work. Most likely you also stopped running which will take some of the pressure off. The Ibuprofen will make you feel as if the pain is going away, and after 10 days or so on anti-inflammatory medicine (in case you went to see the doctor) you are now cleared to go running again. Maybe the first day will be fine, but within a very short time, usually just a few runs, the pain will be back again, and you wonder why, why, WHY?
It is because you haven’t taken care of the tight muscles, which is the reason for your pain in the first place, and anti-inflammatory medication will not help you with that. You need to put some length back into these muscles so they can relax and be flexible again. I hear these kind of scenarios all the time in my practice when people are complaining about lower leg and foot pain, and people are often surprised to find out just how tight their muscles are along the shins. The second surprise is when they find out how easy it is to take care of this problem yourself with mobility work.
However, if this is a frequent area of pain for you, you should think about the long run (no pun intended) which means that you would want to look at improving your running technique. If you are putting your foot down in front of your pelvis when you run, as a typical heel striker would, you will put a tremendous amount of pressure along the shins, and further along the leg. This is really not ideal, as you also loose a lot of power this way. Think about it, did you ever go snow sledding as a kid? Well, if you did you will know that putting your feet out in front of you into the snow will slow you down. So when you are running it would be a lot more preferable to have the foot land underneath your pelvis with the forefoot instead. From this position if you just lean forward a little you have created a rolling forward motion. Find out more about this here. This technique takes a lot less energy and is also a lot easier for your body to absorb, being a spring like motion, and it also makes you faster. Win-win! In real life it (should) look something like this
Most people completely neglect their shins unless it becomes really painful. If you are a runner start thinking pre-hab instead of re-hab by moving this mobility exercise into your regular routine. That way you will instantly feel how you are doing, and can adjust right away, rather than waiting for the pain to be your motivator. Before I finish today’s writing I should also mention that there is one type of shoe, typically used in the summer time, that will wreck havoc on these muscles too, whether you are a runner or not, but more on that next week.
Be wiser and get ahead! Think pre-hab instead of re-hab 😉