Category Archives: Shin splints

Rest day and shin splints

I decided to take a rest day today and to go cycling tomorrow morning. I was going to do things the other way round but what’s the fun of life without some spontaneity. The rest day has been fabulous. I slept in a bit, went to work and am about to go home to chill out until my partner gets home from late shift.

In other news, my shin splints are causing me a bit of bother. Despite all the physio I had in the second half of last year, they are now worse than I can ever remember them being. (Note, that’s definitely not a criticism of the physiotherapist who was really great).

It hurts to walk when they aren’t strapped though I am running pain free during my weekly trail running sessions when the shin is strapped. Clearly, the lengthy period of rest from running didn’t do the trick so I’m not entertaining that idea again. I’m not going to run more than once a week though.

I’m stretching my calves three to five times a day, doing my trigger pointing and also rolling the calf out on my foot ease at least every second night. Hopefully it helps stretch the muscle so that the pressure is taken off the connective tissue around the shins.

I am in two minds about going back to physiotherapy. I spent well over a thousand dollars there in the second half of last year and am no closer to a cure. I’ve had periods where the pain has gone so it might help but every time the pain just comes back. Actually, what happens is that when my shin isn’t sore, my sacroiliac joint plays up. And when my sacroiliac joint isn’t sore, my shin plays up. So there’s definitely something cyclical going on.

I am considering buying a pair of compression garments to wear when my shins are most painful. Perhaps it will provide enough support to relieve the pain in my shins. The only thing stopping me is not knowing whether they will actually work or whether I’ll be throwing more money at something else that doesn’t quite work.

I’m not upset at the situation. In fact, I’ve had shin splints since I was 17 or 18 years old so I’m sure I can continue to live with them. My biggest concern is that they turn into stress fractures. But hopefully with my training focus shifting to cycling and paddling, rather than running, the risk of this will be reduced.

So that’s it from me on this rest day. If anyone has any ideas for my shins, I’m open to suggestions. Tomorrow morning I am getting back on the bike for one last ride before my 200km night Audax cycle on Saturday. I’m a little nervous because there’s 2,500m of climbing and I’ve never ridden more than 160km before.

 

Off for bone scans

I’m off to see my doctor on Wednesday morning to ask for a referral to get bone scans. My left foot hasn’t improved so it needs to be checked for a stress fracture. My left shin is starting show signs of trouble so I’m going to ask for a scan on it too. And my right shin, which was responding really well to treatment before I overdid it in the garden 2 weeks ago hasn’t settled since.

While MRIs would be a more appropriate test to check for stress fractures, I don’t want to pay upwards of $280 per scan. I’ve heard from other runners that bone scans can be used to check for stress fractures and that bone scans can be bulk billed through Medicare.

I’ve never been one to do things by halves so why start now.

I’m seeing this holding pattern as an excellent opportunity to develop into a much stronger, fitter and faster runner in future. By taking action now I have a better chance of running into retirement, rather than being a cripple at 35.

This current injury situation doesn’t come as a shock to me. I’ve been expecting it and am surprised I made it through the past 15 months without coming a busta earlier. I’ve had extreme shin splints for 15 years and a bad ITB for over 10. Even after not running or exercising for 6 years, my right shin and ITB still hurt every time I walked.

The ITB doesn’t hurt at all anymore and after my 12 weeks off I know I won’t have to worry about shin troubles anymore because I’m still going to attend my physio to get the underlying causes of the stress fractures fixed. Long story short is that my muscles and joints are ridiculously tight (e.g. my calf is only just 6cm long and my ankles almost don’t flex at all).  Did I also mention I’ve neglected my core? Yoga, qi gong, pilates, weights and swimming are going to make all the difference.

My goal for 2013 is now much more modest. Rather than hoping to run my first 100 miler, I think I will spend:

  • January working on a recovery phase that includes 4min walk / 1 min run combinations
  • February and March completing the couch to 5km program (who would have thought given I’ve run a 50km and marathon this year)
  • April to August doing a kilometre buildup program in which I hope to increase my weekly mileage to 50km and my long runs to 18km.

After that, I’ll find a 50km or 60km race to train for and I will stick to a 20 weeks program to slowly increase my mileage.

It means I won’t run another marathon or ultra until 2014 but it’s the only real way to do it safely. And besides, I’ve now run two ultras and a marathon without proper preparation and I enjoyed them all. Imagine how great I’m going to feel when I am properly prepared for the events instead of being on the verge of physical break down.

Part of the reason I’m writing this is to remind myself later when I get impatient again.

Herbal remedy experiment

I’ve been growing comfrey in my garden for years. I grow it because it’s a great fertiliser but it’s also an old herbal remedy for bone fractures. The caveat is that it should not be used for more than 10 days in a row nor more than 4-6 weeks a year as a topical treatment because it has the potential to cause liver damage. It should also never be ingested or used on broken skin. This post is not providing medical advice. I am merely sharing my own personal experience. I have not studied natural medicine and do not recommend anyone use herbal treatments unless they have consulted their medical physician.

Caveat aside, comfrey contains allantoin, which can help repair cells. It has long been used to heal bone fractures (hence the common name ‘knit bone’) and it is reputed to be a good anti-inflammatory for deep bruises.

I have cooked up a comfrey poultice that I’m using on my foot and shin. I am not using it every day but am going to try it a few times to see whether it can help. I figure it can’t do any harm to try, so long as I head the warnings about limiting my use of the herb. I think I will use it 5-6 times over the coming fortnight. Hopefully it will start off the healing process.

1. Blend comfrey leaves and water

2. Add flour to form a paste

3. Spread paste on a cloth or pad

4. Wrap cloth or pad around injury

5. Tie cloth or pad around injury

6. Wrap in plastic and sports tape to prevent leakage

I’m also going to speak with my physio tomorrow about whether a set of crutches might be useful. I can’t seem to sit still so resting my foot isn’t going so well. But if I have a set of crutches I can still get around while resting my foot. I’ve pulled out of Tough Mudder because it seems silly to risk further injury when all I want to do is run ultras.

I mean, I’ve really fallen in love with the sport. There is only one other thing I’ve ever been ‘eat, sleep and breath’ interested in, and that’s my garden. I’ve cycled most of my life but haven’t ever been in love with it; my bike’s always just been a mode of transport. I love my motorbike but only ride it; I have only recently decided to learn how to service it myself.

But running … I am surprised to find I love it. I want to run long distances. I don’t need to be fast but I need to be out there in the bush running. And it’s trail ultras that I crave. Sure, I’ve now run a marathon but it didn’t give me the same buzz as the thought of being out on the trails for 7 – 20 hours give me. I can’t explain it; but I could eat, sleep and breath ultras quite easily. I know the names of some ultra runners while I’ve never known the names of any other sports people (not even triathlon).

So I’m going to try my comfrey poultice and perhaps use crutches. And when I can run again, I’m going to follow a progressive program to sensibly build my strength and endurance to reduce the risk of my leg injuries recurring. Because I just need to run.

Making lemonade from lemons

Serious food for thought

When I started running again last year, I knew the risks. I also stuck my head in the sand about the extent of my existing leg injuries: shin splints and ITB in my left leg, sharp pains in the arch of my right foot and a spot on my back that no one could touch. I’ve battled through this far (15 months) with my head buried in those tiny grains you find on the beach.

When I decided on the 12-in-12 Challenge my first stop was the physiotherapist. I knew that I couldn’t get through it without getting some attention on my legs.

What I didn’t expect was for my shin and ITB injuries to respond so well to treatment. They responded so well that I forgot about them long enough to overdo it in the garden last weekend. The physio strapped the calf this morning to help it rest and recover more quickly. I’m confident it will respond well to the ongoing physiotherapy and my homework.

I remembered to tell the physio about the pain in my foot this morning. It’s the first time I’ve remembered to mention it (I actually marked the painful spot with a pen before I went in this morning). After poking and prodding my foot, the physio told me he suspects a stress fracture. That’s pretty bad news for me. At the end of our session today, the physio also strapped my foot to help it rest. He’s going to have another look at it on Monday to see how it responds to a week of rest. MRIs are expensive here in Australia so he said he’d prefer to wait to see whether I need to shell out for the test.

So here’s my lemons: best case scenario I have a serious soft-tissue injury in my left foot and worst case scenario is that I have a stress fracture. Either way, I’ll be unable to run for 4-12 weeks.

Here’s my lemonade: these are chronic injuries I’ve had for years and I know I’ve found a physio who can help me fix them. Even if my 12-in-12 Challenge is off, I have gained so much confidence in the past two months and know that I have what it takes to run ultra marathons. The injuries are long-standing problems, they haven’t been caused by the ultra running. In fact, if it weren’t for the ultra running I probably wouldn’t have gone to see someone about getting them fixed.

I’m going mountain biking with friends this afternoon. I’m allowed to cycle so long as I take it easy. Tomorrow I will go swimming for the first time in months. I’m still doing Tough Mudder next weekend but will just be doing it for a laugh and will be walking up the hills. It will probably be my final event for the year. That means I have three months to work on endurance by swimming and cycling, strength in the gym and flexibility if I can find an affordable yoga class.

When I can run again I’m probably going to focus on either the Northface 100km trail run in May (solo run) or the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km trail run in June (team event). And this time I’m going to do it right rather than just jumping in. I’m enjoying reading two blogs by runners training for ultras (Run Nature and Run Bike Race) and am inspired by their systematic approaches to increasing mileage and running well, rather than just bumbling through.

I hope the news on Monday is good. But I am preparing for the worst. Either way, I can only grow from the experience.

Rest day ramblings: Physio magic

Magic tools make it possible for me to touch my shin

Like many runners, shin splints and ITB syndrome have been an ongoing battle for me. I first started to get shin splints when I was a junior elite triathlete during the mid-1990s. My ITB became a problem in the late-1990s shortly after I stopped racing triathlon.

The pain from my injuries caused me to stop running from 1998 to 2004; swapping the sport for cycling. But I never really loved cycling like I have always loved running. In 2004 and 2005 I ran again. Every run was excruciatingly painful. But I had a lot of demons to exorcise so I ran in agony until I could no longer run. And then I stopped. Until July 2011.

When I decided to take up triathlon last year, it was because I was too scared to take up running. Scared because I didn’t know how to run without pain. And this time, I wasn’t taking up the sport to exorcise demons; I was taking it up to experience the joy that comes with doing what I love.

Fortunately, I discovered barefoot running, which allowed me to run pain free. But the injuries were still there. I could run without pain but my right shin was still always sensitive to touch and my right ITB would still get tight when I walked with a backpack or ran in shoes. The injuries didn’t get worse but they also weren’t getting better.

Just before the City to Surf Marathon, I went to see a Paul, the physiotherapist at Body Leadership Australia. I’d heard about him through my running club. I didn’t expect much from my first visit, given that I’ve had these injuries for over 15 years. But I was wrong.

Paul assessed my legs and back to identify weaknesses and inflexibility. The short version is that I have very short calves, extremely inflexible ankles and a right leg that doesn’t track straight (I knew that because it whips around so much I can see it when I run). If that all sounds dire, it’s not: I seem to be able to run and there’s no reason for me to stop doing what I love.

I’ve been to see Paul twice and have been doing my homework exercises every day. I press the ball against my ITB trigger points and hook my fingers into the trigger points in each of my calves (I found some in my left leg so decided to work them too to prevent shin splints starting in my ‘good’ leg). I use the foot ease roller on the muscle at the outside of my shins, the three sides of my calves, my gluteals and my ITB. I do my stretches and I am sitting in cold baths after every run that is 10km or farther.

I am excited to announce that for the first time since I was about 17 years old, I can run my hand down my right shin without pain. It’s amazing! I haven’t been able to touch my shin like I am in the photo above in 15 years because it was all swollen and sore (there was a big rock hard lump where the muscle and bone joined). But the swollen lump is already gone and I can feel my legs loosening up.

Here’s to years of pain free running because I’m loving the joy it brings. And I can’t wait until my injuries are fully healed.