Injuries and CrossFit

Injuries and CrossFit seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. In fact, a study this year showed that CrossFit had one of the highest rates of injury out of a range of different sports. This was compared to sports that all involve high-intensity weightlifting.

The study showed an injury rate of around three injuries for every 1,000 hours of practice. This put it ahead of sports like bodybuilding and Olympic weightlifting and put it on par with sports such as powerlifting and strongman training.

This was backed up by another study showing that one in five CrossFit athletes experienced regular injuries. So, if you're doing CrossFit at a high level, dealing with an injury is a part of the job.

The above studies showed the lower back, shoulders, and knees to be common sites of injury. But, there is an often overlooked injury risk for these athletes: shin splints. These injuries are both common and unique to CrossFit as a weightlifting sport.

This is because CrossFit also mixes activities like running and jumping with weightlifting into their competitions and training. This means that shin splints join the list of potential injuries that might have to be managed if you're an avid CrossFitter.

Shin splints can also be particularly troublesome, as they are hard to train around and can stop you from getting in your cardio or power work. They're​ also a pretty neglected injury regarding best treatments and guidelines for recovery.

While you'll find hundreds of articles and guides on dealing with back pain and recovering from a shoulder injury, shin splint injuries in CrossFit have nowhere near as much coverage.

So, we decided to put together a comprehensive guide on shin splint injuries. This includes how you can best avoid, or manage them if you find they're getting in the way of your training.

The Anatomy of Shin Splints

Before looking at ways to prevent or treat shin splints, it's important to know what they are and how they happen. This way you can better identify the injury and know how each solution works to relieve it.

Shin splints are also known as medial tibial stress syndrome. This problem is usually discovered through a dull ache along the lower half of the front of the shins and some tenderness in the muscles.

Initially, this ache might occur happen sporadically during running or jumping exercises. However, this will gradually worsen over time until any of the above activities are impossible to do pain-free. This pain can also become severe enough to disrupt weightlifting as well.

This issue is known as a “stress,” or “overuse,” injury. This means that it is caused by placing too much work on a particular muscle or focusing on one activity. It happens when the muscle in the front of the shin, known as the tibialis anterior, rubs off the tibia bone.

This happens when the foot is excessively flexed upwards, known as “dorsiflexion," which causes irritation to the muscle and can lead to inflammation and pain.

If left untreated, this can cause a lot of pain and force you out of training or competition for a few weeks. Like any injury, avoiding it is always the first and best option.

Prevention is the Best Cure

No matter how good an injury treatment is, it will always take more time than avoiding the injury in the first place. Luckily, for most athletes, this can be done with minimal disruption to training.

This is where careful programming earns it's place among most coaching practices. A good training plan not only reduces injuries but also increases gains made from exercise.

For avoiding shin splints, training sessions containing running should be separated from sessions with weightlifting and jumping. These sessions should also take place on different days.

This should help prevent excessive volume on the tibialis anterior muscle. It will also help increase strength and power by reducing the interference from running.

Mixing the power movements, like jumping, with strength movements like squats can also help further boost fitness.

Alternating days and weeks of high-intensity running and jumping is also a useful way of getting in your recovery while still getting in training. For beginners, using both daily and weekly changes in intensity should be helpful.

For more advanced athletes, following a high-intensity week with a low-intensity week should be enough. Using recovery methods like ice baths and compression leggings after training might also help promote recovery.

Looking at training your running technique is also a great choice to protect against shin splints. Here, you should look at developing a midfoot strike when running, instead of the more popular heel strike. This should take a lot of stress off the shins and allow for greater training.

But, despite prevention being the best course of action, sometimes it isn't​ possible. For CrossFitters who are in competition, like the Open or the Games, daily events will have to be completed. So, taking a break for is not really an option at those times. There are also important blocks of training that may be impossible to miss.

In these cases, the athlete or coach can only control the intensity or volume of work that needs to be done by so much. The next best option here is to manage the issue so recovery can happen as fast as possible.

Ways to Deal with Shin Splints For CrossFitters

1. Ice

One of the best ways to prevent shin splints is also a great way of treating them. Applying an ice pack to the affected area or submerging you shins in ice water can lower inflammation. It can also reduce pain to help get you back in the event again.

For shin splints, apply ice for 20 to 30 minutes, 2 to 3 times per day until the next event. Combining this with a mix of the methods below can help speed up recovery and help get you back to top performance as soon as possible.

2. Massage

Massaging the affected area can help encourage blood flow and reduce inflammation. Both of these can help speed up recovery and relieve pain.

This can also be the quickest and easiest means of treating shin splints. You can either have a sports masseur or physiotherapist perform the massage, or use a foam roller. As you might expect, using both should provide the best results.

If you're performing the massage with a foam roller, you should slowly roll the shins for around three sets of 60 seconds. Between these sets, around 15 to 30 seconds rest should be taken.

3. Anti-Inflammatory Agents

Another quick and easy method that should help shin splints are anti-inflammatories. These can include drugs like Ibuprofen or Aspirin or, for less severe cases, Vitamin C can help. In more severe cases, glucocorticoid injections could also be used.

These anti-inflammatories can also be taken before or after competition. This offers a fast and easy way to help further reduce inflammation and promote recovery.

4. Increase shoe cushioning and support

Improving the amount of cushioning and support your shoes have can make them more comfortable and can minimize discomfort from shin splints. It can also help improve performance in running and jumping.

Be careful though - too much cushioning can dampen the force you can produce when lifting weights. Make sure you keep the cushioned shoes for events where the only activities in the event are running and jumping.

5. Compression

Just like icing, compressing the muscles in the shin can work as a treatment as well as in prevention. Elevating the leg and using either compression garments or a bandage can help speed up recovery.

30 seconds of compression followed by 30 seconds of decompression should be used each day. This should last for about 30 minutes and may be best suited following a massage. It is also best suited directly after competition.

6. Painkillers

This method is usually used as a 'last resort’ for many athletes and is mainly used to treat the pain more than the injury. Nevertheless, it is an effective way of getting rid of discomfortso the athlete can continue to compete.

It should be noted that this won't help with healing the injury and may contribute to further damage. This is because an athlete who can't feel pain from an injured muscle is likely to push it harder. Also, the extent of the extra damage won't be truly known until the painkiller has worn off.

Take Home Points

  • Injuries are a common part of CrossFit but can be minimized with good programming. Preventing an injury is always better than having to treat it.
  • The most important element in preventing shin splints, or any injury, is managing the amount of training done and the intensity it is done at.
  • If an injury occurs during training, rest should be considered as the first option.
  • If training cannot be broken, or you're in the middle of competition, using a combination of the above methods should help speed up recovery and minimize discomfort.
  • For immediately post-workout, massage, icing, and compression work best. For pre-workout, painkillers and anti-inflammatories are the better options.
Anne Ramos
Anne Ramos


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