I think I have shin splints- what do I do?August 5, 2015
Shin splints are commonly found in runners, dancers, gymnasts, and basketball players; athletes of sports that involve repetitive heavy impact on the legs. This type of injury can be especially painful and activity limiting so we at Total Performance PT want to give you tips on what to do if you have shin splints and how to prevent them in the first place.
What are Shin Splints?
The lower part of your leg is made of the tibia bone and the fibula bone, which are covered by large muscles that control the movement of your ankle. The muscles in your shin work to pull your foot and toes toward your head while the muscles in your calf work to point your foot and toes toward the ground. These muscles are especially important when running. They make sure the ankle remains stable when you land on your foot and strong enough to propel you forward for speed. This is why injuries to these muscles are common in athletes who rely on running and jumping, landing with heavy impact to the ground.
If these lower leg muscles become overworked, it can cause inflammation and swelling all along the tibia bone causing the pain you experience in your shins.
The most common cause of shin splints is overuse. Examples of overuse are:
- Increasing your training too much too soon
- Running on hard pavement where the muscles have to work harder in stabilizing the ankle
- Not enough rest time to allow muscles to recover from the stress of activity
Another cause could be the simple structure of your legs and feet. Some people, due to the alignment of their bones, don’t run with their foot in the most efficient position, placing abnormal stress on the tibia. This can also happen if you wear improper footwear. If your sneakers aren’t tailored to your specific running style, the added stress on the tibia causes inflammation.
Symptoms of Shin Splints
The most obvious symptom of shin splints is a sharp, dull, or aching pain in the inner part of the shin. This pain can be felt during and after any sort of exercise. More severe cases of shin splints will have pain when you push on your shin too.
If your shin is red, swollen, and painful to a superficial touch, call your doctor immediately as this might be more serious than shin splints.
The most important part of treatment for shin splints is rest. Rest is necessary for the muscles to heal and the inflammation to calm down. If you don’t give your muscles the chance to recover, you could be placing yourself at risk for a more serious injury like muscle tears or stress fractures.
It is also important to ice! You can use an ice pack or a frozen bag of peas several times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time. The ice helps to decrease inflammation and relieve pain.
A more active way to treat your shin splints is to stretch and foam roll your leg muscles. Gentle stretching of your shin, calf, and thigh muscles will decrease the stress of tight muscles on the tibia. Some stretches include:
- Seated Calf Stretch – Sitting on a table or bed, extend your leg out straight in front of you. Wrap a strap or a dog leash around your foot just below your toes. Slowly pull the strap so that your toes move towards you and you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold 30 seconds and relax. Repeat 3-5 times on each leg.
- Standing Calf Stretch – Stand close to and facing a wall. Place toes on the wall, keeping your heel on the ground. Place hands on the wall and slowly lean body toward the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold 30 seconds and relax. Repeat 3-5 times on each leg.
- Seated Shin Stretch – Sitting in a chair, cross one leg over the other so that your right ankle rests on your left thigh. Place your left palm on the top of your right foot and gently pull towards you so that your foot and ankle point and you feel a stretch in your shin. Hold 30 seconds and relax. Repeat 3-5 times on each leg.
You can also use a foam roller to decrease muscle tightness in your legs. Check out our YouTube page for tips on how to use a foam roller!
Next, you can strengthen your leg muscles. Exercises for your shin and calf muscles will help make them stronger and less likely to fatigue with increases in intensity. They also increase blood flow around your leg to help decrease inflammation. Some exercises include:
- Standing Heel Raises – Stand up and raise up on your toes lifting your heels off the ground. Lower back down. Repeat 3 sets of 10 times.
- Standing Toe Raises – Stand up and raise your toes from the ground pushing down into your heels. Lower back down. Repeat 3 sets of 10 times.
These exercises and stretches are good to do even if you don’t have shin splints! They can help prevent runners and other athletes from getting shin splints in the first place.
Lastly, you should check out your sneakers. You need to evaluate whether they have the correct support for you and your running pattern. They might also be worn out. Most sneakers can handle up to 250 miles before the support is worn out. Most small running stores will help assess your feet for the type of shoe best for you.
You can also consider orthotics, which are padded shoes inserts that create a support for your foot when running. The inserts help cushion the foot and decrease the stress on the leg muscles and bones. These can be bought at any convenience store or specially made through the therapists at Total Performance PT.
If you have shin splints and need help – call Total Performance PT to schedule an appointment today!