Whether you’re an experienced runner, weekend warrior or running is part of your gym programming, chances are you’ve experienced a running-related injury. This includes shin splints and knee pain.
For most, injuries like shin splints and knee pain don't automatically start the second you pick up running. That's because it takes time to develop. If you’re an experienced runner, maybe you increased your training load too much and overreached your capacity. As a weekend warrior, maybe you’re not putting in enough time throughout the week to correct muscle imbalances or tight muscles. If running is just part of your workout, you may be too fatigued by other exercises that by the time it comes to running you’re pretty well gassed.
Whichever scenario fits you, the solution is actually quite simple. You see, if you don't practice something, running included, you can’t expect to get very good at it. On the contrary, if you practice running too much, you can develop overuse related injuries. That's exactly what shin splints, knee and ankle pain are. They are the product of overuse.
As mentioned earlier, there are several likely causes of your running related injury. Let's start with muscle imbalances and shin splints. Its quite easy to develop your calves, but not as easy to develop the opposing muscles: tibialis anterior or dorsiflexors. Running is an exercise that taxes the dorsiflexors more than when you're just walking or performing other exercises. This increase in demand can expose an underlying muscle imbalance and present as shin splints. Knee pain can be caused by a muscle imbalance as well. The quadriceps are similar to the calf muscles, which means the hamstrings are similar to the dorsiflexors. The same concept applies. If a muscle is weak (comparatively) but the demand is increased, you’re likely to develop some aches and pains. Another common cause of running-related injuries is trying to run faster. Wait, what? Think about it this way. What's the first thing you do to run faster? Most people will start taking longer steps. Longer steps change the way you land (foot strike) and therefore changes the impact or load on muscles. Because of these changes, the body must compensate. When your body isn't able to compensate, it starts talking to you (pain).
Whether you’re dealing with shin splints or knee pain, the treatment is often the same. Take faster steps. By taking quicker steps you have to decrease your stride length. What’s the magic number? Most research articles propose a stride cadence of around 170-180 steps per minute.
If you’re someone dealing with a running-related injury, I want you to take note of your current running cadence. If your cadence is well below the 170-180 mark, try increasing your cadence a few steps per minute and observe any changes in your symptoms. The key here is to make small changes. Even if you’re not currently dealing with a running-related injury, you can decrease the risk of developing one by addressing any potential deficits in your cadence.