By: ALEXIS BLANDINE
Edited by: KELSEY CRUZ
Left, right, left, right – in through the nose – out through the mouth.
Anna chants this mantra as her foot strikes the pavement. As she begins her three-mile trek on this hot, sunny, June afternoon, strands of her hair tickle her face as the wind blows around her. The boardwalk pounds under her heels and energy courses through her body, intensifying her confidence as she keeps stride with the music that is pumping through her earphones. Nothing can stop her…until she feels a fire surging through every muscle in the back of her leg. The cramp slowly cripples her until she is forced to stop, killing her spirits and afternoon. This excruciating pain, also known as a Charley Horse (or muscle spasm), is very common among runners and can lead to something much more painful – shin splints.
“Shin splints can be from a muscle spasm in the front of your leg or could be from a hairline fracture to the shin,” says Lauren Kanaskie, who has a degree in exercise science. “The fibers that make up the muscle stay in a closed position and do not relax properly. This is what causes the tightness and pain that you feel in the front of your leg.”
One way to help prevent shin splints is by purchasing the right kind of sneaker.
“Try going to a running store that will watch you run and put you in the proper type of shoe,” Kanaskie suggests. “Some shoes have more support to prevent pronation or supination while you are running, which affects the way the weight is distributed on your feet and can cause stress in the muscles of your legs. Getting the proper sneaker can help to eliminate this stress.”
However, be sure to break in your new footwear before you sign up for your next marathon. Your body needs a few days to adjust to your new kicks.
Another way to help prevent shin splints is by stretching both before and after your workout. Exercising without stretching greatly increases the odds of Charley Horses, shin splints, and a myriad of other injuries. Kelly McCarron, a certified yoga instructor for over 35 years, suggests doing stretches that focus on the legs to help evade the pain and avoiding high impact activities (i.e. jumping jacks) if your muscles are already tight.
Here, McCarron suggests basic stretches:
- Put right foot in front of the left (about 12 inches) on its heel and then gently pull toes towards the shins, alternating between flexing and flattening the foot. Switch feet.
- In a seated position – with your left foot underneath you and your right leg straight in front – point and flex foot. Switch feet.
- From a standing position, extend one leg and bend forward from the hips, flexing that foot towards you and leaning into the calf. Switch legs.
However, no matter how cautious you are, injuries and pain still occur. If you have a shin splint, stop what you’re doing and stretch and massage the leg. Kanaskie also suggests freezing water in small Dixie cups.
“Once they are frozen, peel off the edge of the top of the cup and use the ice to massage your leg where you are feeling the pain,” she says.
Pain is not always gain. As an athlete, you always want to fight through the pain and continue your sport. However, no excruciating or extended periods of persistent pain should be left untreated. Contact a medical professional if the pain doesn’t subside.