Today, I am not going to write about how to be free of shin splints, instead I am going to delve into the subject of treadmills and whether they are an effective alternative to, and whether they are more likely to cause shin splints than road running.
There’s no denying the popularity of the treadmill, go to any gym and there will be a rows of them everywhere…all in use! What is difficult to understand is that there is usually a road right outside the entrance of the gym which is completely free to use…so why would people prefer to part with there hard earned cash rather than hit the tarmac?
There are a number of factors why many individuals choose treadmills over road running, here are the main four:
1. There is no need to worry about the weather.
2. There is little chance of being mugged or attacked whilst running.
3. You do not need to worry about pedestrians, cyclists or cars!
4. The cushioned running track is easier on your knee joints which in turn lessens the likelihood of running injuries.
Having written these four factors down I can, from a personal point of view, understand why people would choose to use a treadmill over hitting the roads, however…although the first three seem valid enough, I think a closer look at the fourth factor is worthwhile and to do that we must take a closer look at running technique in general.
How do we run?
When we run we will extend one leg out in front of us, to do this we have to use the thigh muscle, or quadricep. Once our leading leg is planted the posterior (rear) muscles take over from the quadricep and pull us forward at the same time as this is happening, the thigh muscle on our other leg is used to extend that leg and start the sequence over.
What this basically means is that running requires your thigh muscles and the muscles on the rear of your legs to work as hard as each other in order to propel you forward…this is what happens when you run normally.
However, if you are running on a treadmill, it only requires half the effort! We will still use our thigh muscles to extend the legs, but unlike running on a solid surface, the rear muscles are not worked as much due to the fact that the treadmill belt does the job for them by pulling the planted leg backwards. In short, our leg muscles are only working at about 50% when compared to road running.
This imbalance when running is bad for two reasons, firstly you burn far fewer calories and secondly there is more likelihood of stress damage to various parts of the leg, in particular the knee. There is also research to show that treadmill running can actually cause increased tightening and fatigue of the hip flexor muscles which can over time alter running technique and cause further damage to knee joints and then there is also the way your foot, ankle and shin becomes a part of the treadmill belt’s rearward motion this is said to cause shin splints due to the unnatural angle of the shin.
So as for the question about treadmills causing shin splints…yes they do, but the likelihood of suffering treadmill shin splints can be greatly reduced by simply adjusting the treadmill so that it is very slightly inclined. This incline will help adjust the angle of the lower leg when running so it performs as if road running. Whilst the treadmill is set to 0% incline the assisted rearward motion of the belt actually makes the shin work as if it is running down a hill, it is this that normally results in the user requiring treatment for shin splints.
Having said all that, I would never dismiss the use of treadmills, they are very convenient and are a good training too bad weather in particular during the winter months when the risk of injury due to running on ice and wet surfaces is likely to carry just as much of a threat of joint damage, however…as with all things in life, moderation is the key, never just use a treadmill for your cardio training and road run whenever it is possible.
So now you know how to get rid of shin splints if you get them when using a treadmill and you also know the truth about the health risks of using them…but they are, as I have already said, still very useful and are certainly deserving of their popularity for all the reasons I have stated above. So… before you next decide to jump onto a treadmill, take a minute to look outside your window and see what the weather’s doing and if it looks good….hit the road!!
Have a great shin splints free day