Girl, Running
April 19, 2010 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I want to be a runner. But everytime I get started on a program that builds in distance and endurance (like Couch to 5K) I end up quitting because of the intense shin splints.

I rest, I ice them, do everything I'm told, but as soon as I start back with the running, they pop back up. I get discouraged, and stop the program.

I'm pretty sure this is mostly connected to my feet and my overpronation...I also have pretty narrow feet and very high arches. My dad accuses me of being "slewfooted". I've tried many different types of running shoes with no luck.

So here's what I want to know--I've been thinking about running again, because I've heard of these Vibram FiveFingers that everyone swears has changed the way they run. Could these fix my shin splints problem? Will they be suitable for someone with my type of foot?
posted by Mimzy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Vibram FiveFingers are amazing. They make you run with better form, because if you try to heel-strike in them, it hurts. No padded heels.

Definintely learn how to run properly though too -- check out Chi-Running.
posted by Nerro at 4:18 PM on April 19, 2010

What you probably need is a hot date with a podiatrist, who can fashion orthotic insoles to correct your pronation and address your arches or recommend you a commercially-available insole.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:20 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have a great local running store near you? My awesome running store evaluates your foot, does gait analysis on a treadmill for you, and then recommends the best shoe for your foot (sometimes throwing an insole in if your foot doesn't match shoes well) and gait. Then you try it out on the treadmill, and sometimes it's the Best Thing Ever and sometimes it doesn't work for you or it unexpectedly does something weird to the way you run and you try again with the treadmill and the video camera and running coach. That way you a) get to try shoes that might work well for you b) get to have an outside opinion of whether you are making things better or worse with each pair.

Do the shin splints occur with *any* running, or just when you start to up the distance?
posted by charmedimsure at 4:21 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

A physical therapist could be your date, too, if you want to cheat on the podiatrist. I know one -- nowhere near you, unfortunately -- who specializes in teaching people how to run and avoid injuries. (He loves his Five Fingers, by the way, but they're not the only shoes he runs in.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:25 PM on April 19, 2010

Yeah, it sounds like a gait analysis (from a medical type person, not a salesman) is what you need. Or medical confirmation as to what exactly is causing you pain.

(The toe-shoes seem like a good idea to build proper form. Or even watch runners on TV and watch their gait. I'd bet that most of them (look like they are) running on their toes.)
posted by gjc at 4:57 PM on April 19, 2010

I got shin splints every time I got into running (after quitting because of laziness/injury) until I started running with a buddy who was always unwilling to go run, so that held down my progress, but actually a slower rate of increase was exactly what I needed. I haven't tried them yet, but I've read a lot of anecdotes saying barefoot running (or running with something like the FiveFingers) gets rid of shin splints problems. Either way, even if you run barefoot you still have to remember to go slow (in intensity and mileage).

I'm a bit wary of podiatrists and PTs because they do make the most money out of selling you orthotics and stuff, but perhaps if you can find a recommendation for one near you...

If I were you I would just go to a clean track or a safe grassy area and run barefoot, starting with runs under a mile.
posted by bread-eater at 5:08 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back when I still was into running, what I figured out was that my wind was far in advance of the toughness of my connective tissue. That is, I could run for 30 minutes without getting puffed no problem, but it would hurt hurt hurt. The solution was to run for what seemed like an absurdly short time -- like 10 minutes-- and progress much more slowly than what my lungs told me I could manage. Then everything had time to adjust. So my advice is to run for 10 minutes to start with and add less than 5 minutes a week.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:35 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

before you shell out for the 5 fingers try running barefoot. If you still get the shin splints the 5 fingers wont help you.
posted by outsider at 5:52 PM on April 19, 2010

I would try a much slower start to your workout program (slower increases in distance, running at a slower pace) and see if that helps. It did for me.

Also, the hot date with the podiatrist is an excellent idea, too.
posted by zippy at 6:10 PM on April 19, 2010

The shin splints might be due to increasing your mileage too quickly (she said, massaging her sore foot that resulted from increasing mileage too quickly — argh). I've come across a lot of recommendations that one shouldn't increase distance or speed more than 10% a week.

In the book Running for Mortals by John Bingham, he writes
…while your aerobic system can achieve one cycle of measurable improvement in 3 to 6 weeks, your muscular system achieves one cycle of measurable improvement in 6 to 12 weeks.… your aerobic system is changing every 3 to 4 weeks, and your muscles are changing every 6 to 12 weeks, but your joints and tendons won't — and can't — change except every 6 to 12 months.…

That is why people so often begin to experience joint pain after just a few months of running.… Their hearts and lungs are feeling better than ever and their muscles are starting to feel great, so they push themselves to go farther and faster before their joints and tendons are ready. [pp. 58-59]
Beyond that, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the book Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain by Pete Egoscue. I recommend the Egoscue Method rather a lot because it's made such an amazing difference in my life — I went from 15 years of chronic back and foot pain, as of two years ago, to now, when I'm doing things like deciding to run a half marathon... and overtraining and injuring myself as a result. Oops.
posted by Lexica at 6:16 PM on April 19, 2010

See a podiatrist if you can, a physiotherapist if you can't (strongly recommend a podiatrist, however; look on local running forums for a recommendation). Slow down (right down), run shorter distances, avoid any product of gimmick that uses or implies the word "revolutionary".

Vibram five fingers/chi running/barefoot running etc etc is wildy over-represented on the internet. Hang out with some running groups or on race day and you will see how common they are (not very). This isn't because people aren't aware of "the secret" - I'm not saying they might not help you, but take the evangelicism with a hefty pinch of salt, and don't blow a heap of money on them until you have gotten some real advice.

Let the professional with the degree evaluate your feet and gait, rather than a salesperson or someone on the internet who has never seen them. It might seem expensive in the short term, but in the long term it really does pay for itself.
posted by smoke at 6:43 PM on April 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't mention exercises designed to prevent shin splints -- have you tried that?
posted by JanetLand at 6:46 PM on April 19, 2010

Response by poster: I tried to get correctly assessed at the one running store in town, but the guy just suggested some orthotics. I bought some Superfeet and they helped a bit, but shin splints still persists. I've heard really good things about a running store a couple of hours away in a larger city; next time I'm up there I'll try to visit.

Yes, I've tried the exercises and stretches that several of you suggested, but maybe I'm not doing them at the right point in the run? I usually do them before and after, with a stop to stretch when the shin splints start.

I'll try to find a podiatrist and see what they say.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by Mimzy at 7:09 PM on April 19, 2010

the guy just suggested some orthotics.

despite what the internet appears to think, orthotics are the correct answer for some people. Barefoot running/all natural lifestyle is great for people who were born perfect and would have been successful 35-year-olds in hunter-gatherer societies, but not for everyone. Luckily for us, technology has advanced so that we can now outrun them.
posted by jacalata at 7:18 PM on April 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

Here's what I've been learning about shin splints: they are an overuse injury. Slow down (literally and figuratively), and they might not be a problem. My understanding is that shin splints can be related to tight calves, so make sure your calves are stretched.

I wouldn't spring for Five Fingers quite yet--I never had shin splints til I got them (I traded plantar fasciitis for shin splints, lucky me). I'm building up slowly, but I hurt less when I wear cushy shoes. So you might get some new shoes, but not Five Fingers. FF are great, but they aren't miracle shoes for everyone.

Even Couch to 5K might be too much to fast, especially if you haven't been in a habit of walking. So maybe try more walking, less running. Like maybe do weeks 1 and 2 a few times each.

One thing that really might help: running on softer surfaces, like trails, grass, or tracks. I just can't run on sidewalks in my FF. Hurts too much. A guy I know who owns a running shop says it took him a good solid year to build up to wearing his FFs, and he still wears them only on soft surfaces; he wears his regular running shoes for pavement.

The thing that helped me the most: cross training. Are you active other than occasional attempts at running? Try cycling (indoor or outdoor) or swimming, something very low impact, and build up your strength doing that. It might help to vary your routine.

I sympathize--I also had to give up Couch to 5K because of pain. But then I started cross training, and now I'm running a few miles once a week with a group.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:07 PM on April 19, 2010

Regarding the book recommendations above - don't forget to check your local library or interlibrary loan. I'm always reluctant to spend money on some program that I'm not sure will work; but if I can get it for free, I'll try most anything.
posted by CathyG at 9:00 PM on April 19, 2010

I hate to bring this up, but how heavy/big are you? That can have a huge effect on running and pain. If you are an especially large and/or heavy person, you may need to build up to running at half or a third the speed of a smaller counterpart, or lose some weight before it will ever be comfortable.
posted by Anonymous at 9:34 PM on April 19, 2010

I can't believe I almost forgot to tell you the most important bits!

1. Foam rolling. Google that phrase, and you'll find lots of good stuff. You don't need to buy anything fancy--a full-round, 6x12 for $8.95 would certainly get it done. I use it particularly on my calves, and it's a huge help.

2. Massage. Not necessarily forever, but a competent massage therapist can help loosen up the stiff muscles that are giving you shin splints.

3. Glutamine. It's an amino acid that our body produces to help us heal from injury, but if you're very injured, your body might not make enough. Apparently doctors give this to patients recovering from surgery. A small scoop mixed with water once a day can really help with muscle soreness. At the very least, there seem to be no bad side effects. IANADoctor or expert of any kind.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:36 PM on April 19, 2010

Oh, and when I had my feet checked at a sneaker shop, the guy promptly gave me the pink SuperFeet because, gee, I'm a girl. *sigh*

I turned out to need the green ones, per my podiatrist, being a girl with Achilles tendon problems and pronation problems... so the store guy in your case may or may not be on the ball.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:25 PM on April 19, 2010

I was off running for the better part of a year starting in October of '08 because of shin splints. Every time I tried to start back up, I'd feel that shin pain again almost instantly.

I'd done lots of physical therapy, strength training, and regular stretches. I'd visited two different podiatrists and tried a range of custom orthotics. I had worked - unsuccessfully - at changing my gait.

The one thing that seemed to really change everything was the Five Fingers. For the first time, I was completely aware of my foot's orientation, the effect of different striking techniques, the length of my stride, etc. And for the first time, I felt that I was in control of all of this.

I used them for about three months - the latter two in conjunction with a transition back to regular running shoes. Now I'm in shoes, running regularly as far as 12 miles, and I haven't been injured since. Even the knee and heel pain that I'd just learn to accept as a trade for running is either minimal or gone altogether. I attribute a lot of this to the Five Fingers.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 7:29 AM on April 20, 2010

I recently started running barefoot on my treadmill. (I got midway through the 25 minute week of C25K a few months ago and then pooped out. Running outside got too hard with bad weather intervening.) I had wanted to try barefoot running, but was too chicken to do it outside. I really like running barefoot on the treadmill, and would say to try it if you have access to one. It would be cheaper to try that out before buying five fingers. (Note: I totally want some, though. ) I don't get shin splints, but e everything hurts way less this way. I tried running with shoes a few days ago, it hurt right away.

One thing I learned quickly, wear socks or it will soon feel like you've sandpapered off the bottoms of your feet.

Obviously, IANAAR. (I am not an actual runner. )
posted by artychoke at 8:49 AM on April 20, 2010

nthing starting slower . . . i used to get shin splints that would last for days every time i ran, which meant i could never get into a good routine. but, i just made sure not to run again until a shin splint healed, and now they don't bother me at all.
posted by sunnichka at 6:30 PM on April 20, 2010

I didn't see the exercises you referred to, so I don't know if you've seen this or not. But years ago, this exercise completely eliminated shin splints for me. I would do them slowly for 5 to 10 sides on each foot before running.

Get a bucket and put several pounds of sand in it. Wrap a towel around the handle. Sit on the edge of a table with your thighs all the way onto the table and your knees bent and your lower legs hanging loosely off the side of the table. Put the bucket handle over the instep of your right foot. Keep your knee bent and your calf straight down and perpindicular to the floor, but flex your foot and ankle to raise and lower the bucket several inches. You should feel this stretching and contracting the muscle in your shin. Do this slowly for 5 to 10 times. Then move the bucket to your left foot and repeat.

You can easily adjust the amount of sand in the bucket to get the proper resistance.
posted by marsha56 at 9:46 PM on April 20, 2010

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