Baby Steps: Where Do I Go From Here?

To capitalize a little on a recent internet meme, here’s a little feature I’d like to call “Shit People Think About People With Shin Splints”:

Walk it off!

Run through the pain.

Suck it up, sissy!

Maybe you’re just too heavy to run.

You’re probably just really out of shape.

Everybody gets shin splints, how big a deal can it be?

Here’s how big a deal it can be: After resting for over two weeks–no running, limited walking, no calf or leg exercises–as well as getting a professional massage and and stretching religiously, a 20-second run on the treadmill brought me not just right back to square one, but to a place way, way past it. It felt–and I in no way exaggerate here–like someone took a hatchet to my tibias and just hacked away. And the pain persisted for days. Constant, chronic, hacking-hatchet pain.

Since then, I have avoided the gym and especially anything that might make my calves any stronger. (This helpful video revealed that for months I’ve pretty much been doing the exact opposite of preventing shin splints. Even my massage therapist told me to lay off.) I’ve been going swimming occasionally to maintain some kind of cardiovascular fitness, but even the walk from the parking lot to the pool sends shooting pains up and down my lower legs, and this has persisted now for over two weeks. The lack of walking and running has helped somewhat–but sometimes a quick walk up a flight of stairs will bring on the pain.

The typical healing process for shin splints is 2-14 days of rest, periodic ice, anti-inflammatories, taping or binding, and elevation. It’s a watch-and-wait approach. What’s of greatest concern to me at this point is that even after so much rest, so much watching and waiting, and following all of the rules for healing and reintroducing my body to a lower level of initial running intervals, I can be sitting at home watching TV, and my legs will throb with pain as if bruised to the bone.

This has led me to believe that something else is going on and some detective work is needed to get to the bottom of it. So where do I go from here?

I’m going to begin with the hop test, a simple assessment that can help to distinguish shin splints from stress fractures of the tibia. People with shin splints can usually hop on one foot several times before experiencing pain; people with stress fractures hardly ever last more than a hop or two without acute pain. Although just the thought of doing this scares me (yes, let’s please perform an activity, utterly voluntarily, that is guaranteed to hurt like hell [says the girl with 7 tattoos, heh]), it’s at least one way to gain a little bit of insight.

I am also setting up a visit to my GP, who will most likely refer me to a specialist of some kind–either an orthopedist or a physical therapist who specializes in sports injuries. I will probably have to get X-rays or some other kind of inside look at the problem–perhaps a dye-injected MRI or CT scan. I might be asked to see a chiropractor if the problem is stemming from compressed nerves or spinal misalignment–a “silent” cause of so many issues. I will most likely have to get a gait analysis and have my feet and ankles evaluated for supination or overpronation.

After all that is said and done, then I can move ahead with buying appropriate shoes. Plenty of shoes exist for people who prefer midfoot running that contain the appropriate support. But before I go putting down $175 on a pair of trainers that might last, what, a year? And might not even work? I need to have some idea of what my body, my feet, and my ankles need in order to keep these shin splints from returning, if that is indeed what they are.

I sit here now, having worked so hard to get fit–to get to a point in my life where I actually had the capacity to run–and am looking forward to my goals and realizing just how much I’m going to have to adapt to this massive bump in the road. There’s no way I can complete the C25K program before the end of April; there’s no way I’ll be able to run in the mini triathlon this June that I was hoping to train for. When even baby steps cause me pain, it’s hard not to be frustrated. One step at a time is still one painful step. I have to remember that every road is a bumpy one, and that sometimes, the better way of getting somewhere is to forge your own path. So here’s to making my own way–slowly, and with ice packs.

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2 thoughts on “Baby Steps: Where Do I Go From Here?

  1. You are so right that a person with shin splints cannot “work through them,” I wish you luck healing. So are you a pronator or supinator?

    • jem80 says:

      Thank you! I think I might be an overpronator, if I’m reading the mirror test, footprints, and shoe wear correctly. I don’t really have flat arches, though, and every time I have ever injured an ankle (which has been 5x mildly, 2x seriously, and 1x severely–I am a glutton for punishment), it has been through oversupination. So I’m a mixed bag. Hoping to get to an orthopedist next week, because my hop test was worrisome.
      Thank you for reading and commenting!

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