What are shin splints?
Shin splints - or medial tibial stress syndrome - are one of the most common running injuries. Repeated stress is placed through the shin bone causing pain.
Causes of shin splints
Shin splints are an overuse injury - generally caused by a sudden change in your activity level. For example, runners who increase their mileage too soon, make big changes to their workout or change from running on flat surfaces to hills. Beginner runners are particularly prone to shin splints as they are using muscles they haven't used before. Poor choice of footwear can play a role, as can tight calf muscles, weak ankles, or a tight Achilles tendon.
Other causes can include;
- inadequate stretching (pre and post workout)
- frequent running on hard surfaces
- excessive stress placed on one leg, for example, from running on cambered roads or always running in the same direction on a track
- aching, throbbing or tenderness along the inside of the shin
- pain begins shortly after starting exercise and may subside during the session
- pain when you press on the inflamed area
Undiagnosed and untreated, shin splints can lead to a stress fracture of the tibia.
Prevention and treatment
Prevention is the best form of medicine!
- warm up and stretch the muscles in your legs before you work out.
- wear calf sleeves/compression socks as these will both support the leg and keep it warm.
- ice the painful area for 5-10 minutes three times a day
- take aspirin or ibuprofen to assist with both the swelling and the pain (short-term only)
- ice immediately after running
- to speed recovery, cut down on running or stop altogether for a few weeks - try lower impact exercise instead and cross-train, for example swimming or cycling
- see a sports massage therapist
- exercises with a resistance band to help to strengthen muscles
- your therapist may also suggest range of motion exercises
- gait analysis - overpronation may be a causal factor and support shoes may help
- orthotics in your shoes may help
- improve your posture to change the stress being placed on the legs
- taping can help, ask your therapist for advice
When you do return to running, increase your mileage slowly, and, if you need an excuse for more shoes, it is a good idea to have several pairs of trainers and alternate between them as this will vary the stresses on your legs.
If you feel pain in your shins please stop what you are doing and consult a professional.
There are other causes of lower leg and shin pain, so do get it checked out just in case.
Exercises to treat and prevent shin splints
Stretch your calves and Achilles regularly as a preventive measure.
1. Alphabet Stretches - sit or lie and trace the outline of the alphabet with your feet.
2. Calf Raises - this will strengthen all the lower leg muscles. Stand with the feet shoulder width apart and knees straight. Lift the heels off the floor as high as possible and slowly return back down to the floor.
3. Heel Drop (soleus stretch) - stand with your toes on the edge of a step or a box, and knees bent slightly. Hold onto something stable for support if required. Drop your heels downwards. You should feel a stretch in the back of your legs, in the lower calf (known as the soleus).
4. Heel/toe Walking - walk the length of a room slowly either on the toes or on the heels. This will help to strengthen the calf and shin muscles.
5. Spikey Ball Standing Calf Stretch - standing up, place the ball of your foot and toes onto a spikey ball (a rolled up towel will also work). This will create a stretch to your calf muscle at the back of the leg. Hold this stretch.
6. Quadriceps Stretch (sitting down) - sit down on your heels, and relax the body backwards. Hold this position to create the stretch to both thighs. You can also lift your pelvis to create a stronger stretch to the quadricep muscles at the front of your thighs.
7. Quadriceps Stretch (standing) - pull your foot towards your bottom. You may want to hold onto something. You will feel a stretch to the quadricep muscles at the front of your thigh.
8. Quadriceps Stretch (kneeling - difficult) - kneel and pull one foot towards your bottom which will be the leg that is being stretched. You will feel a stretch to the quadricep muscles at the front of your thigh. This is a difficult stretch, so only attempt it if you can.
Time frames for recovery
Recovery times will vary depending on the individual. Try the treatments outlined in this blog. If pain continues, take time off training and contact us.
What should I do?
If you think you have signs of shin splints, speak to one of our therapists for assessment, treatment and advice.