Shin Splints

>What are they and how can I heal them?

What are they and how can I heal them?

If you are lucky you won’t know what shin splints are - but chances are you, like many athletes have complained of pain in the lower leg when running. Shin splints is a term used by professionals to refer to a specific medical condition. Athletes tend to use the phrase shin splints when referring to lower leg pain in general. In this article I’ll be using the term in its more general context meaning pain due to bone stress, insufficient blood supply, inflammation, raised intracompartmental pressure or nerve entrapment. These complaints are often interrelated.

A word of warning It is possible that the pain you feel in your shins is something that is self treatable. On the other hand it maybe that the pain is something more serious and putting your head in the sand will not help! The aim of this article is to outline the problem to inform you about the issues, help you decide on the best course of action and help you make the best of any session with your masseur, physiotherapist or doctor to get you back running as soon as possible.

If symptoms persist, then a trip to medical practitioner is highly advised - correct diagnosis is likely to significantly reduce recovery time - and this is best done by trained personnel. If you like, we can assist with this with our Sports Therapist and Sports Masseur.

Why do Shin Splints hurt?

The most likely cause of shin pain is due to micro tears in the muscles that closely surround the shin bones. The blood then sticks to the bones and congeals causing, stiff and inflexible scar tissue. When the muscle tries to move the scar tissue pulls on the bone causing pain. If left untreated it can cause serious damage to both muscle and bone and can lead to injuries, such as stress fractures, and stop you exercising for months or years. Fortunately when treated, it will not be a problem or significantly stop you from training or competing.

To identify the reason for the pain, we advise you seek medical help. To speed up your recovery and ensure quality treatment seek out a masseur (see Some types of shin pain maybe self-treatable but it is important to get an expert to assess your symptoms, diagnose the exact condition and advise you on how to recover from any existing injury and prevent future reoccurrences.

Treatment for Shin Splints

  • Rest - The body is great and telling you what to do. If it is painful to run then don’t run! Try to rest completely do not keep testing it out too see if it still hurts, it probably will. Give it time to fully heal.
  • Ice - Application of ice after exercise will reduce the bleeding and thus reduce the amount of scar tissue being generated. A great technique is to gently rub an ice cube the edge of the shin bone from toe to knee.
  • Sports Massage - A skilled masseur is able to treat most types of shin pain. An experienced and highly qualified masseur will significantly speed up recovery and will ensure prevention of this injury. The masseur will do this by deep friction and other methods (such as soft tissue release) to break down the scar tissue and allow the muscles to begin to work effectively again. The masseur will also be able to look at your biomechanics and assess and treat the probable cause of shin pain to ensue it does not reoccur.
  • Self massage - The best and easiest way to massage away shin pain is to sit with your right ankle resting on your left knee. You can then apply deep strokes up the edge of your shin bone from tie to knee. Try and hook your fingers under the bone slightly as you move up your leg. You are aiming to break down the scar tissue and release the muscles, so that they can work more efficiently.

Prevention of Shin Splints

Keeping the muscle of your lower leg in good condition is important to preventing shin pain and keeping you running.

Muscles tear, resulting in scar tissue, pain and subsequent injuries, primarily due to a lack of flexibility and strength.

Increasing strength

Weak muscles of the lower leg will contribute to a poor running gait. If one muscle is significantly weaker than other muscles it will be put under greater strain.

The Tibialis Anterior is a muscle that runs down the front of the shin. If it is weak your foot may cause a slapping sound when you run as you are not adequately controlling your foot fall. The result will be a greater impact and an increased likelihood of stress fractures especially in the lower leg.

Recommended preventative exercises

  1. Lean your back against a wall with your feet comfortably out in front of you. Slowly raise your toes towards your knees so you are on your heels, and then slowly lower them. Repeat this exercise 10-15 times. To increase the difficulty of this exercise try it on one leg.
  2. Step forward as normal but only allow your heel to touch the floor. Step back and repeat 10 times. The more weight you put on your foot the harder this exercise will be.
  3. Ministry of silly walks. If there is no pain these exercises are should be included as part of a normal warm up routine. Walk for around 10-15 meters and allow a rest or normal walking period in between each different sort of walk.
  4. Jumping exercises. Try jumping, altering the height and speed of each jump. Aim to jump using your ankle movement; your knee movement should only be used to help reduce the impact.
  5. Therabands. Wrap a theraband around the top of your foot and attach the other end to an immovable object. Slowly moving your toe towards your knee is a simple and effective method of resistance training.

Increasing flexibility

A flexible muscle is a muscle in better condition, will be less likely to tear and therefore less likely to cause shin pain. I recommend that for every training session you do you should do a subsequent half hour stretching session. Next time you sit in front of the TV think stretch!

Try the following stretches

Calf stretches

There are a number of different and effective ways to stretch the calf muscle. It is important that you do it in three ways. With one foot in front of the other lean towards a wall a) keeping you back leg straight and b) bending your back leg. The third stretch is to stretch the sole of your foot an area connected to your calf, important to keep flexible and often forgotten. Place your foot near a wall allowing your toes to bend upwards. Move your knee forwards over your foot to increase the stretch on the sole of your foot.

Shin stretch

The shin is a notoriously difficult area to stretch. Try kneeling down with your feet pointing out behind you. If you can’t feel a stretch then gently pull your feet up off the floor. The trick here is to ensure you are pulling your feet straight and not to either side.

Other things to consider

Shin pain is often caused by a change in the surface you train on, a pair of new shoes, or the frequency, intensity or volume of your training. Ensure you change your training slowly and listen to your body.

There are many ways to prevent shin pain, some are outlined in this article.

Taking care of your lower legs by regularly doing the few simple exercises outlined here and increasing your flexibility is the best way of reducing the likelihood of experiencing shin pain. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer from shin pain the most effective and quickest way of stopping the pain is to get help from a professional. Shin pain may have other causes (see table) by seeking professional help you will be able to ensure you get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Summary of Lower Leg Conditions

Photo Summary of Lower Leg Conditions.

For further details, questions, or treatment contact the our experts via our sports treatments link