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What Causes Shin Splints? (Part 2 of 4)

Shin Splints

Dr. Alex Earl, DC shares insights and simple strategies to help competitive and everyday runners like you deal with shin splint pain in the Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Carol Stream & Winfield area.

"MOST OVER-USE INJURIES OCCUR FROM DOING TOO MUCH, TOO SOON AFTER DOING TOO LITTLE FOR TOO LONG"

The 2 Vital Features of Overuse Injuries 

While the term "overuse" is a general term for any injury NOT due to sudden trauma or a single event leading to the presentation of pain and discomfort, it is worthwhile to further categorize the cause of an overuse injury into two distinct categories:

  1. 1
    Excessive workload, or volume.
  2. 2
    Insufficient recovery of stressed tissues (bones, muscles and tendons)

By far, an overwhelming majority of patients who end up in our sports medicine clinic in Carol Stream end up so due to doing too much, too soon after doing too little, too long. While someones intentions were healthy and well-meaning, their body was not ready for the demands of the exercise. A textbook example is on the soccer field or the track. Both sports expect athletes to begin the season at a higher than normal fitness level, but when that is not met the athlete must play catchup due to the increase running demands. This excessive increase, compared to another athlete who has been running all off season, proves to be the leading indicator of whether an athlete will develop shin splints or not. Also, another indicator is any athlete who has previously sustained shin splints or a bone stress injury (BSI). 

Picture this: an athlete completes their high school or college soccer season in early November. The next season won't officially begin until August, so what should the athlete do in the off-season? Well, if the athlete wants to avoid a running-related injury, my answer has always been, "Don't run... OR, never stop running"... 

My point is that the athletes who continue to run at a higher volume continuously throughout the year, regardless of intensity, significantly reduce their risk of develop shin splints. As legendary New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter once quipped, "It's far easier to stay in shape than it is to get in shape." I would agree. 

Internationally renowned researcher,  Tim Gabbett, Phd (who has taught his course  "Workload Management: Train Smarter & Train Harder" at Active Health & Restoration back in 2019 and is scheduled to return to our office in June 2020) pioneered the analysis of these increased spikes in athlete's workloads in order to track and mitigate the risk of injuries. You may have even seen on ESPN the phrase "load management" as the reason for when James Harden takes another game off. Gabbett took this phrase from his research and began teaching coaches and medical providers alike the skills needed to identify athletes who may be more prone to overuse injuries.

The second category of overuse is due to recovery. Over the years, I've witnessed thousands of athletes "recover". From observing professional athletes and high performers, I can honestly say that they recover better than others. For example, during the NBA Playoffs this past year, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James reportedly slept 12 hours a day. Think about that for a second. Arguably the best player in the league sleeps more than most, including others in the league who might be 10+ years younger than him. I do not think this a coincidence. Tom Brady is another example. Brady has been known to study football game film for hours right before bed. He's a master at football strategy and he simply knows how to win. But one can't help but recognize and appreciate when Brady studies film; before bed.

We know from several key researchers that our brains process information while we sleep with the most recently absorbed information processed deeper while we sleep. During chiropractic school, I would do the same thing. I would study the toughest topics right before bed, then sleep and wake up with a surprising amount of the information retained. The converse was also true; if I studied early in the morning, I typically struggled to retain the knowledge. If I was studying in the mornings, it also meant that I did not prioritize my previous night properly, which also meant I didn't sleep as much as I should have. Recovery has a way of build on itself like a snowball; which can be a good thing or it could come rolling back down hill on you if not done properly. 

After we exercise, our tissues need time to fully recover before we stress them again. One the best ways to recover is to initiate a sleep habit, as our tissues recover best while we sleep. In fact, the best endogenous (meaning it is made within the body itself) hormone that aides in the healing process spikes while we sleep! This hormone is called growth hormone it is essential for our muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments to properly heal. If you don't sleep well after high intense exercise, such as a race or game, then you are spoiling a wonderful opportunity for growth hormone to kick in and do its job. 

So there you have it! The first cause of shin splints explained - overuse. The two categories of overuse involve increasing too much in activity and reducing the amount of time to fully recover. 

If you are frustrated with missing out on running, soccer, basketball or whatever activity you enjoy due to shin splints, I have good news. Every day in our sports medicine office in Carol Stream we deal with athletes just like you. We help athletes get back to their sport safely, effectively and properly in order to compete. 

Do this next:

1. Share this blog with someone you know who would find this information useful.

2. Text our office if you are interested in the Running Drills to Master mentioned in the blog - Call/text: (630) 765-0575

3. Keep an eye out in your inbox next Wednesday for the 3rd Installment in our 4-part blog series. 

Dedicated to restoring you health. 

Dr. Alex Earl, DC DACRB


Alex Earl

Alex Earl

Alex Earl, DC - Chiropractic Physician - Dr. Earl helps people of all ages remain active, strong and able to participate in the activities they love. Aside from Active Health & Restoration, Alex is a clinical instructor for Midwest Rehabilitation Institute, along with a few other professional educational organizations across the country. He is a Diplomate in Clinical Rehabilitation through the American Chiropractic Board of Rehabilitation (ACRB). Dr. Earl earned his Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree from National University of Health Sciences in 2015. He is currently a resident in West Chicago, IL with his beautiful wife, and four (perfect) children. In his spare time, Alex coaches high school soccer.
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