As I leaned against a young tree (all trees are young in this forest), I could feel the anger, disappointment, and shame build, as I contemplated turning around after what was essentially a stroll in the park. Anger for the conditioning designed to prepare my shins to run again, instead leaving me limping down an easy trail. Disappointment not only for the current backpacking trip ruined but the loss of a full summer’s backpacking trips, trail running left in the dust. Shame for the hubris in believing that a few stretches and strengthening issues could solve an injury plaguing me for years.
You see, I am a rule follower. I like lists, procedures, and routines. I believe most problems can be solved if only the correct formula is found and applied. One of the most difficult parts of this injury has been the endless trying new techniques, procedures, and hypothesis for pain, only to give up again. I thought I had found the perfect formula of strength and flexibility conditioning, applied daily with patience and diligence to mitigate all future injury risk. At that moment, leaning against that tree, I knew that the ways I had managed my injury thus far were not sufficient, and it was time to change strategies.
Last month I talked about how I developed shin splints. As I try to determine what caused my shin splints in the first place, it has been helpful to look back at what I did as treatments pre and post-injury. I want to share the mostly successful, less successful and downright failed attempts. Today’s post is the first in the series of steps I have taken to heal my shin splints, covering what I did pre-injury. Later this month, I will cover everything I did after the injury and my experiences seeking professional help.
First: What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints suck and there are a lot of things medical professionals don’t understand about them, which makes fixing them pretty tricky.
Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome occurs when there is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around the tibia. My shin splints were on the inner edge of the shinbone. Pain included dull, throbbing pain after a hike or upon waking and occasionally a buzzing as if a nerve had been activated. I have heard it referred to as kitten nibbling and it is the most accurate way I have found to describe it. It feels like a small kitten is gnawing on your finger, it kind of hurts, kind of feels itchy and generally feels uncomfortable, but not enough for your body to yell “stop now!” As it progressed, it grew from the kitten nibbles to a persistent dull ache. Now, it aches for a few hours every now and then and limits my hiking abilities.
Last February, after my elbow injury kept me out of the climbing gym, I began preparing to run again. Remembering my previous bout with shin splints, I reinstated my physical therapy to make sure my legs were top-notch before hitting the pavement again. In my case, just doing these preventative exercises was enough to aggravate my original injury.
Unlike other overuse injuries, this round didn’t start with a rapid increase in activity, rather I was doing much less than I had done in the past, while still maintaining fitness. The normal series of treatments for shin splints didn’t seem to be fixing anything and I seem to have relapse after relapse. If this is your first experience with shin splints, I recommend talking to a physical therapist and following all of the normal procedures. If you have been struggling for awhile, and feel like you have tried everything, read on.