How many of you reading this have had to deal with shin splints at some point during your military career? I bet that a good portion of you have because it has been shown that up to 35% of American military personnel suffer from shin splints. Could your flat feet be the cause of your shin splints?
It usually creeps up on you during BMQ and will come back around every time you start picking up running seriously again or next time you go on a course and have to ruck march. It is frustrating dealing with shin splints because they can be very debilitating and we never think about preventing them until the day they happen to us.
Now is a good time to reflect on these injuries we’ve had because we can use the winter to fix all of our little issues and be ready for the work in the following summer or for the running season. So, if you’re preparing to go on a course and you want to make sure you don’t become that one person with a chit that says you can’t run, then keep reading. If you’re that one person who’s had recurring shin splints over and over and the best advice you’ve had was to ice it, keep reading. Or even if you’ve never dealt with shin splints but want to prevent them, this may be a good one for you too.
What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints, also called Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, is essentially damage to the tissues surrounding the shin bone (tibia). The repetitive stress and impacts on the lower leg will lead to inflammation of the muscle tendons, such as the tibialis posterior muscle. A sudden increase in training load such as walking, running, and ruck marching will put a lot of stress on those muscles if you haven’t built up your body progressively or if you aren’t stretching those muscles enough. The most common symptoms are tenderness along the shin bone, swelling, and pain during exercise.
The Go-to treatment
So if you’re on course and you go to sick parade for pain around your shin, the medical personnel will most likely look at you, recognize all of those symptoms, and then send you off with ibuprofen, ice, and a chit that says you can’t run/ruckmarch.
Read more about shin splints and why NOT to ice your shins on the HRD2KILL Blog here.
Even though this is the standard treatment and it may relieve some pain in the short term, it isn’t going to get rid of that problem for you long term. The only way to truly fix shin splints is by finding the cause and treating it. In a lot of cases, the increase in training load/stress isn’t always the primary cause…
Many studies have been conducted in order to find out what people who suffer from shin splints had in common and figure out if there is an anatomical trait that could predispose certain people in developing the syndrome. Through multiple studies, what has been proven to be a recurring and crucial indicator of who will develop shin splints is…flat feet!
Let’s think about the anatomy here. The foot has a natural plantar arch which is present due to the bone structure, but which is also maintained by the muscles of the foot whose tendons run along the shin bones and in the calf, and insert down into the foot. People with flat feet already have a collapsing plantar arch when standing straight, so you can only imagine how that arch will collapse even more with the impact of landing whenever they are walking or running. Therefore, the muscles whose job is to maintain the arch, such as the previously mentioned tibialis posterior, will work double time trying to restore that collapsing arch if you have flat feet. Which can eventually lead to inflammation of the muscle tendons, swelling and pain around the shin bone: shin splints.
What Should I Really Do If I Have Flat Feet and Shin Splints?
The idea here is to figure out if you 1. have flat feet and 2. need to reinforce that plantar arch. If the answer is yes and you are flat footed then you should seek exercises that will strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot and the tibialis posterior. Some basic exercises that come to mind are, towel crunches with your toes and standing heel raises.
Then, you need to make sure you progressively increase your load whether it is distance, pace or overall time well before your course or running season starts. Lastly, you need to make sure your recovery is on point by giving your body enough rest time in between impact workouts, and by relieving your foot and calf muscles through stretching and massaging regularly. You can self massage your plantar arch with a lacrosse ball and roll out your calf on a foam roller.
Check out the video on ruck march recovery here:
So while the winter is fast approaching and you are re-evaluating your training goals to get ready for next summer. This may be a good time to assess where your boo-boos are coming from so you don’t end up with the same problem next year, or so you can prevent them from ever happening.
Train Hard, Fight Easy
Audrée is a graduating student in Athletic Therapy from Concordia University and a reservist in the CAF with the 51st Fd Amb. Coming from a contemporary dancing background, she was looking to improve her physical capabilities through strength and conditioning. At 17 years old she had her personal training certification and was working in a gym helping people reach their fitness goals. She now is focusing her work on getting people to their full potential through globally assessing body mechanics and weaknesses with athletic therapy.