If you think you’re getting hurt more than the men in your running group...well, it turns out that you’re absolutely right. While this might seem like a bas sexist joke, the facts are real: after studying male and female athletes, a recent study revealed that women are more susceptible to overuse injuries than men.
Now, overuse injuries are very common in runners, because they caused by repetitive motions. Doing the same motion again and again hits the same part of your body with constant force. Common overuse injuries include shin splints (more on these in a minute) and stress fractures, two injuries with which all runners are way too familiar.
Women and Running Injuries
To reach their conclusions, researchers at Ohio State University studied 3000 injury cases among high school athletes over a seven-year period. They examined individuals who played 20 different sports.
Not only did they find that women are more likely than men to get injured, they also found that track runners had the highest incidence of injury. In other words, female runners got hurt more often than their male counterparts.
Thankfully, being a female runner doesn’t have to mean that you’re doomed to a life of running pain. In fact, there are many things you can do to avoid overuse injuries. For starters, you should incorporate rest days into your training routine. And cross-training should be a major feature of your workout regimen.
You can also alter your stride or run on different types of surfaces; make sure to stretch and work on balance to avoid muscle compensation on one side of the body. These general tips should help lower your odds of every type of running injury. But now let’s take a closer look at one particularly pesky running injury: shin splints!
What are Shin Splints?
Medically speaking, shin splints are a condition known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). It’s an injury that typically develops when you step up your training, by increasing your mileage to marathon distance, upping your speed, or even adding to the number of times you run each week. Basically, it’s an overuse injury, as I mentioned earlier.
But back to the doctor speak for a minute. The stress of shin splints hits your tibia: the long bone that runs down front of your leg, from just below your knee all the way to your ankle. When your runs put lots of stress on your tibia, it needs help from surrounding body parts, which leads to strain on the tissue in your bones, tendons and muscles. And that strain hurts. A lot. Especially if you try to push through and keep on training.
As I mentioned, women are more susceptible to shin splints than men. Other risk factors for shin splints includes your arch height (too flat or too high are both problematic.) And training on hard, unforgiving surfaces (like running on concrete) can also increase your risk for this injury.
Symptoms and Treatments
Symptoms of shin splints show up in your lower legs as pain or tenderness. Typically, the discomfort is most prominent on your inner leg. Initially, running may help relieve your pain. But, over time, running with shin splints will worsen the condition, and make your pain stronger and more persistent.
Thankfully, there’s a lot we can do to help women runners beat the odds and recover from shin splints. The first step is to take a break from running (I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s non-negotiable.) During this down time, try icing the affected area several times a day. You can also take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) to manage your pain and reduce inflammation.
Still, if a few days of home care doesn’t offer pain relief, it’s time to come into my podiatric clinic. I can take X-rays and conduct a thorough examination to rule out a related running injury: a stress fracture.
Preventing Shin Splints
Thankfully there are some clear ways you can reduce your risk for shin splints. First, get a gait analysis to see if your running form is contributing to your injury. This is a service I provide in office as part of getting you fitted for custom orthotics. It helps me (and you) understand how your body moves, and how we can help support those movements to help you enjoy running without pain.
You’ve also got to pick a great pair of supportive running shoes. Some people like the Nike Vapormax, some prefer the adidas Ultra Boost. Truly, I don’t care which sneaker brand you choose. I just want you to pick a shoe that feels good the first time you slip it on. And I want you to consider getting a pair of running orthotics, to help take the pressure off your tibia during exercise.
I’m also going to recommend cross-training, to help build up strength in other areas of your body. Specifically, you should focus on building up your core, hips and ankles, as these muscles can all help support your runs.
Finally, I’m going to suggest taking a good, hard look at your training schedule. I’m not here to sit you on the couch. I just want us to work together to create a plan that will keep you running. And keep you from the need to seek pain relief in my office. Because, as much as I love seeing you, I’d rather our visits not be fueled by your repetitive running injuries.
Just rememeber: the most important key to avoiding overuse injuries is listening to your body. If you notice pain in one part of your body when you run, don’t try to push through the discomfort. Instead, make an immediate appointment with your Houston podiatrist to beat the odds and stave off an overuse injury!