For ages I had been plagued with an extremely nasty pain around the top of my left shin whenever I went skiing. It localised sort of around the size of a 20p coin, and no matter how much Deep Heat cream I put on it, and stretching and "taking it easy", it still throbbed with pain.
It set back my progress, stopped me making turns/stomping my landings, and made the odd edge catch excruciatingly painful. And yet for ages, I thought I was alone. I spent so much time fiddling about with the straps on my boots, trying to find an obvious solution to the pain, and subtly trying to massage it all away when no-one was looking.
I blamed the issue on everything. I blamed my outdated boots, my technique, my lack of fitness and even the terrain we were riding on. What never crossed my mind, for even a split second, was that I was experiencing something pretty common that a lot of skiers get: shin bang.
So what is shin bang and should I be concerned about it?
The short answer? No. It’s a temporary problem that can be fixed by simply adjusting your posture, or making sure you’re equipped with the right gear.
Shin bang is not the same as runners' shin splints, the pain is superficial and usually subsides when you take your boots off and leave the slopes. It’s usually your body’s way of telling you that you need to correct your position and perhaps even look into getting some new boots.
There are lots of ‘quick fix’ solutions out there from Booster Straps (which increase the performance of the power strap of your boots by providing solid support with extra flex), to gel pads to cushion your shins against the thrust against the tongue of your boot. But personally, I'm more the type of girl who likes to tackle a problem at its root rather than fixing it superficially.
I couldn’t really tell you exactly what backseat skiing is, except, apparently, I do it. After a bit of research I could see how it’s very easy for the average skier, who doesn’t have a huge amount of access to the snow all year round, can fall into this trap. That being said, it is a common position that skiers of all different skill levels sometimes slip into.
It’s difficult to explain this position using words but essentially you are ‘bending backwards’ and as a result, the front of your shins are thrust up against the stiff tongues of your boots. After several hours of riding up and down the mountain like that, you can imagine that they would begin to hurt.
How to avoid this? I am no ski instructor, and it’s not for me to say, but the internet is scattered with advice on how to improve posture. I found this particular ski tip video served up some useful advice that I’ll be trying to implement on my next trip, but heck...if all else fails... I’ve heard that if you try to imagine clenching a penny between your butt cheeks, it’ll keep your hips in a forward position! There’s one for when all else fails!
Is It My Ski Boots?
Probably the first thing that goes through your mind when you’re suffering from the dreaded shin bang is ‘there’s something wrong with my boots’.
You’d be forgiven for thinking so. Ill fitting, or badly fitting boots are one of the biggest contributing factors for a whole host of performance-hindering ailments for skiers. Even if you have had your boots professionally fitted for you, there’s no telling how they’re going to perform on the slopes, or whether they’re compatable with your style.
While it seems the actual opposite of what you might be thinking, it’s actually boots that are too large that are associated with shin bang. It doesn’t make sense does it? You’re doing everything possible to loosen the front of your boots that feel too tight, and here I am saying you need to downsize. The throbbing spot on your shin probably just got even more painful at the thought.
There are lots of ‘quick fixes’ on the market, which don’t necessarily come cheap, that are promised to ‘fix’ the shin bang problem. Quite often coming in the form of silicone gel pads which you either stick to the bare skin against your shin under your socks, or you tuck them down the front tongue of your ski boots. They don’t necessarily come cheap (a pair off Amazon may set you back £30. No telling what they’ll cost straight from the retailer...), and personally I believe that this is sort of bypassing a problem, rather than solving it.
Going back to the root of the issue, if it truly is your boots that’s giving you the ol’ shin bang time and time again and you’re looking into buying a new pair, then maybe opt for a pair of Full Tilt boots instead. Full Tilt boots are arguably the top market brand you can buy for experienced skiers, their design is focused around giving that all-important flexibility to the ankle, and with more ‘natural’ movement within the boot, you are less prone to bash your shin against the tongue repeatedly. That's the theory, at least.
Wearing Too Many Layers
It suddenly clicks, doesn’t it? I once bumbled into this mistake of wearing tights panty hose, thermal leggings AND thermal socks on top of that (maybe even throw in another pair of socks for good measure). What can I say, I was cold.
But the more you layer up underneath your boots, on the one hand you’ll be as warm as toast (or even sweaty), but you’re compromising the fit of your boots in the process. The answer is simple - less is more. Invest in some serious high quality merino wool/SmartWool socks, a pair of high-tech thermal leggings… and that’s it. The higher quality you go, the less you’ll need to layer up the base layers.
Overdoing It On The Ski Slopes
If it’s the first time you’ve been on snow since the last season, throwing yourself into the blacks and backcountry runs with guns blazing can sometimes have the opposite effect than what is desired. Sorry babes.
Consider it this way: would you break into a full on sprint and expect to see excellent results without warming up? Or attempt to do the splits without stretching out first? The answer would probably be ‘no’, right? The same concept applies for skiing, especially if you’ve been off the slopes for more than 6-8 months, you need to ease yourself back into it gradually.
Take it easy on the first day, do plenty of warm up runs and spend some getting back into the swing of things, and correcting your posture if you find yourself slipping back into the backseat position. Simples!