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Leimkuhler: Conquering commong running injuries

Most runners will likely agree that injuries are simply par for the course in this sport we love.

As a triathlete, I’ve suffered my share or running-related injuries, from plantar fasciitis, to iliotibial band syndrome, runner’s knee, shin splints, a tensor fascia latae injury, and metatarsal fractures.

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In fact, according to active.com, in any given year, anywhere between 65 percent and 80 percent of runners get laid up with an injury.

“Poor footwear, inadequate core strength and over-pronation are often to blame, but the most common culprit is over-training,” the site notes.

However, when it comes to young runners, I believe their rapid rate of growth and changing bodies — especially for girls — plays a major role.

My oldest daughter ran varsity cross country as a freshman and sophomore, but switched her primary extra-curricular focus from running to band when chronic shin pain turned into an intermittent tingling and numbness that threatened to morph into a more dangerous condition known as compartment syndrome.

My middle daughter also developed shin pain that kept her sidelined from both indoor and outdoor track during her freshman year. During her middle school years, when she participated in a youth track and cross country program, she also suffered from the common growth-related pain of Osgood-Schlatter’s and Sever’s disease, which is, respectively, caused by inflammation of the area just below the knee and inflammation of the growth plate in the heel.

The girls regularly practiced the well-known RICE techniques or rest, ice, compression, and elevation, along with physical therapist recommended stretching and strengthening exercises. Throughout it all, their primary goal was to keep running.

My youngest daughter is now poised to enter high school yet, already, her hopes of a promising running career are being diminished by persistent bilateral knee pain. Despite following the usual running pain and injury protocol — including X-rays and a visit to a specialist that offered little more than a Spider-Man-esque knee brace and a grainy photo showing a wide-open growth plate in the knee — the problem shows no sign of abating, much to her extreme disappointment and frustration. As a result, we have turned to an alternative therapy, one that helped me overcome the debilitating pain of plantar fasciitis when nothing else worked. But we’ll get to that in future column.

This week’s focus is to provide insight on the best ways to treat and prevent shin splints, one of the most common running injuries.

According to medicalnewstoday.com, shin splints accounts for an estimated 10.7 percent of injuries in male runners and 16.8 percent of injuries in female runners.

Known in the medical world as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints is an injury common to runners and other athletes, but can also affect anyone participating in physical activity, especially those who are just beginning a fitness program.

Shin splints are characterized by pain along the inner edge of your shinbone, or tibia, and, according to mayoclinic.com, is the result of “too much force being placed on your shinbone and connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone.”

The condition typically occurs after long periods of repetitive stress to the tibia and also following sudden changes in physical activity, such as increasing frequency, intensity and duration of workouts, and running on hills or uneven surfaces. Individuals who return to exercise after a long period of inactivity may also experience shin splints. Other factors that can lead to the development of MTSS include biomechanical irregularities; muscle imbalances, weakness and inflexibility; wearing improper or worn-out shoes; excessive pronation; engaging in high-impact activities on hard surfaces; having flat feet, rigid arches, or poor running form; and smoking. Women, due to a higher incidence of diminished bone density and osteoporosis, are more likely than men to suffer from shin splints.

If you experience a dull ache, tenderness, soreness or swelling along your tibia, discontinue the activity that is causing pain. Mayoclinic.com notes that most cases of shin splints can be treated with rest, ice and other self-care measures such as the use of anti-inflammatories and orthotics, stretching and strength training, taping or using compression sleeves, and wearing appropriate footwear.

Most importantly, do not ignore shin pain or attempt to work through it as MTSS does not usually resolve on its own and, left untreated, may progress into a stress fracture. A stress fracture is a tiny chip or crack in the bone that requires rest until the bone has healed. So, at the first sign of shin splits, decrease your mileage or stay off your feet completely for a few days while administering self-care. If shin pain or swelling persists, or you shin becomes hot and inflamed, seek medical care to rule out other shin problems such as stress fractures and tendonitis; a correct diagnosis is necessary for determining the appropriate treatment.

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Most cases of shin splints resolves with rest and self-care but you should aim to be pain free for two weeks before returning to exercise at a reduced rate of intensity and a gradually increase your training.

To prevent shin splints, always warm up before exercising, wear shoes appropriate to the activity and your body, lessen the impact by cross-training and running on forgiving surfaces, include strength training and stretching in your exercise routine, gradually increase your training, avoid hills, and tune in to your body to be alert to the first signs of shin pain.

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