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Pain-free running in the great outdoors

Nurturing

STRETCH IN THE EVENINGS Always do a five-minute warm-up with plenty of stretches before starting a run.

Health

Paul O'Brien

The longer days mean more opportunities for running outside rather than at the gym.   Running outdoors is a liberating experience. It connects us to our primal roots, immerses us in nature and is beneficial for physical, mental and emotional health. If only we could do it forever!
Unfortunately, most people who take up running will experience the twin terrors of pain and injury at some point. This can lead to restricted movement, cessation of exercise and the concurrent loss of motivation. From shin splints to runners’ knee to muscle strains and tongue-twisting problems like plantar fasciitis, there exists a myriad of potential problems that could halt your good intentions in their tracks.

The problem
Probably the most common injury I’ve come across is shin splints. This is a generic term for a range of problems or conditions in the lower leg. Essentially, it happens when the connective tissue between muscle and bone (fascia) becomes strained or overworked. In the milder cases, the fascia is merely enflamed. In more serious cases, the fascia can begin to come away from the bone, causing sharp and chronic pain.
Shin splints happen when the muscles of the lower legs are put under too much stress, where they have not been previously used to this. This is why the condition is very common amongst novice joggers and runners. However, more-experienced runners can also suffer from shin splints at times of high-volume training or if they are experimenting with a change in running technique.

The treatment
The RICE system (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) of injury treatment should be employed for mild cases of shin-splints. Rest is the first port of call, allowing any inflammation to ease. Icing the affected area for ten minutes, two to three times daily will further help, while elevating the affected leg. A compression bandage may also be applied while icing or for short periods afterwards.
For more serious cases, the RICE treatment will also help. However, this treatment will only deal with the symptoms of shin splints. Deal with the actual cause by considering the next set of variables.

The cure
If you occasionally or regularly suffer from shin-splints, take heart: You can do something about them. The following measures will help ensure that your days of pained and strained movement are about to be left for dust. These techniques will help alleviate not just shin splints but a range of other aforementioned problems too.

Mid-foot strike
For most novice or recreational joggers/runners, it’s not necessary to completely change your running style. However, consistently striking the ground with your heels first is a major cause of shin splints and knee injuries.
Heel-striking leads to over-striding and also puts a lot of pressure on the fascia. Heel striking is also essentially a ‘braking’ mechanism, akin to regularly tapping upon your car brakes while trying to simultaneously accelerate. So, mixing in a little mid-foot striking helps to shift the emphasis and reduce pressure on the shins, while also absorbing more ground-force impact through your body’s natural shock absorbers – your calf and leg muscles.
Practising mid-foot striking takes time and patience. Try it at walking pace first for a month, until your feet get used to it. Then throw in a few short intervals when jogging, until you are comfortable doing this for a few kilometres.

Footwear
Always jog or run in good-quality trainers. If you are running a few times a week, replace your trainers after six to nine months.

Terrain  
If you suffer from shin splints, avoid too much downhill running for a while until your symptoms have gone. Also be sure to run on an even, stable surface, avoiding one side of a sloping street or road.

Warm up
Always ensure you complete a five-minute dynamic warm-up that includes lunges, squats, knee raises and walking on your toes to warm up your legs.
Rolling a tennis ball under the soles of your feet for a minute or two is a little trick I picked up years ago, and it has served me well in avoiding injury. Think about it, your poor soles take all of the impact all of the time. Wouldn’t it be wise to prepare them for that?!

All ears
Listen to your body. If your shins, or any other muscles or joints are telling you to rest, just do it!

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach. He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or rofstudio@gmail.com.