What are shin splints?

Ouch!  What was that?

You’re out on a run and all of the sudden you start feeling intense pain in your shins.

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What’s up with that?

You’ve likely heard the term shin splints before and maybe you’ve unfortunately experienced them.  They are the bane of the running world and other athletic activities as well.  I know in my history of sprinting and running, I’ve experienced them a handful of times and it’s no fun!

What is it like to suffer from shin splints?

They are awful.

It almost seems as if you can’t walk without pain shooting through your shins.  First thing to check if you’re experiencing shin or lower leg pain is to get it checked out to rule out something more serious like anterior compartment syndrome or a stress fracture. Once those are eliminated as possibilities, it’s time to treat your shin splints.

How to treat shin splints

So how do you treat shin splints so that you can go back to the activities you were doing before?  For that, we need to understand what exactly is going on when you suffer from shin splints.

Medical understanding of shin splints

Shin splints or lower leg pain is often the first sign of an overuse injury.  In runners, this can come from doing too much, too soon.  Too much mileage, too much intensity.  This causes inflammation in the lower part of the leg, specifically Tibialis Anterior and Tibialis Posterior.

Other ways shin splints can develop over time can be related to biomechanics issues (foot, hip), poor shoes (old/worn, bad fit), or related to the surface you may be doing your activities on.  Additionally there can be a whole range of muscular imbalances that can contribute to developing shin splints, but the most common has to do with overuse.

Getting Back on Track

Rest

The first thing you need to do is take a look at what you’re doing.  It’s likely that you’ll need to take some time off from your activity so that you don’t make your symptoms or injury worse.

For many athletes that may be a challenge, but necessary in order to fully recover and be pain free.  However, this doesn’t mean you totally have to abandon exercise all together.  Find ways to workout without stressing your shins too much.  Biking, swimming or doing upper body workouts will help you stay in shape while your shins recover.

Massage

When you think massage, you are likely thinking soft calming music and a gentle, relaxing massage.

THIS is not that.

Massage when it comes to shin splints is about addressing and treating knots or trigger points in Tibialis Anterior, Tibialis Posterior and the calves (gastrocnemius & soleus).  By acknowledging these bands of tight muscle, you can help alleviate some of the pain in your shins.

Ice

Old reliable – ice. Ice is great for reducing inflammation to a localized area.  You can do this in one of two ways.  An ice pack on the area (shin) or a localized ice massage to the area using an ice up.

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Taping

KT Tape or physio taping protocols can help. Shin splints are Micro-fractures in the tibia, resulting from a number of causes discussed earlier. When a major fracture occurs in a bone, a cast is applied to the affected area.

What about numerous small fractures throughout a bone?

Well physio taping to support the tibia as well as tibialis anterior and/or tibialis posterior can ease the tension in your lower leg as well as bring in fresh blood to aid in healing these micro-fractures. Try physio taping for shin splints and watch a reduction in recovery time. You will be back at your old routine before you know it.

Exercise

There a few exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles around the tibia, specifically the two that have been mentioned in this article.  These go back to two of the exercises I would do before cross-country practice.

It’s a simple as it sounds.

Heel walks and toe walks. Walk on your heels for a set distance or walk on your toes.  There are also a myriad of foot/ankle exercises you can do using a band from inversion/eversion to dorsi/plantar flexion exercises.  All will help create stronger muscles around the tibia.

I would suggest doing the walks barefoot as this will strengthen and work the intrinsic muscles of the feet. And how often do you exercise barefoot?

Takeaway

There you have it.  A solid plan to recover from your shin splints without losing any training time.  Because no one really wants to be sidelined for too long.

Before you get back out there, be sure to address some of the other possibilities.  Check your shoes to see if they are worn down, or if they are the wrong fit.  Some stores will do a gait analysis to see what will work best for how your feet strike the ground.  Additionally, fixing mechanics can have a tremendous carry over into if this becomes a repeat injury.

Lastly, take it slow.

Read more from WatchFit Expert Chris Cooper.

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