Shin Splints: What Causes Them, How To Treat Them And The Best Ways To Prevent Them
Shin pain can be relentless.
Ongoing pain that stops you doing the exercise you love. You’ve probably tried to ‘rest up and hope for the best’, which makes the pain go away, but as soon as you try to get back into training it flares up again – as I said it can be relentless!
Shin pain, or ‘Shin Splints’, is a widely used term for tibial stress syndrome.
This stress to the tibia, or your ‘shin bone’, can be present in two different areas: medially (pain felt on the inside) or antero-laterally (pain felt on the outside) of your shin. Both behave similarly, however they involve different muscles that insert closely on either side of the tibia.
Why do I have Shin Splints?
Too much, too soon!
A rapid increase in load or frequency can lead to the inflammation of the muscles, tendons and soft tissues around the bone, which in turn creates this ‘stress reaction’.
Repetitive impact activities are often the main culprit. For runners, shin splints can be quite a common injury, however it can affect people who play sport on hard surfaces or do repetitive jumping activities. Even walkers can experience this sort of pain.
The Wrong Shoes
Another contributor can be as simple as footwear. Are your sneakers supportive enough, or is it related to your feet? This is when it’s important to have your lower limb biomechanics addressed by a physio to correct imbalances and get good advice on the right shoes for you.
How long will I have Shin Splints for?
I’d love to be able to look into a crystal ball and tell you the exact time it’ll take, but everyone is different, so patience is key!
Pain can start to decrease as early as 2-4 weeks, however flare ups may need to be managed as exercise and activity is progressively built up again. It can actually take a full 3-6 months for things to completely heal and be back exercising pain free. During this time it’s important not to get discouraged and remain active by working around your injury.
What’s the best treatment for Shin Splints?
In this case, the best treatment is prevention! Listen to your body. ‘Pushing through pain’ is not always the right way to go about it, especially in the case of shin pain.
However, if you’ve already developed Shin Splints, here’s what to focus on during treatment:
If shin pain starts to bother you, rest and give your body the recovery it needs. Use ice to ease inflammation and pain in the acute stage of injury. Anti-inflammatories may also be helpful if pain is severe.
Release feet and calves
Tight muscles and tissues around the shin may contribute to the problem, so using a mobility ball or foam roller to release the shin, calf and foot can be very effective.
Proper Foot Support
There are some specific taping techniques, which your physio can show you that can provide support for the shin, and foot while relieving pain. Additionally, a new or different pair of shoes better suited to your biomechanics can give you instant pain relief. Chat to your physio about which brand and style would be best for your feet.
Train smart, not harder
Learn to listen to your body and prioritise rest for better recovery. Our muscles adapt and get stronger with progressive overload but need time in between sessions to recover thereby preventing the onset of injury. Train smarter by taking a day or two off from training each week and periodising your program to alter the intensity and volume so you progress without injury.
Address lower limb Biomechanics
Having your gait and biomechanics assessed might be the key to long term prevention. There might be an underlying issue such as foot posture, technique during foot strike, or stride length which are contributing to dysfunction in walking, running or jumping.
Strengthen your feet and lower limbs
Getting stronger is always the way to go! Target the calves, glutes and entire lower limb musculature with particular focus on single leg strength. In addition to this, add in some hopping and jumping endurance training to help prevent shin splints whilst also improving your running or jumping ability too.
Your Shin Splints Action Plan: What To Do Now
1. Getting assessed by a Physio!
Physios are trained neuromuscular experts who understand this condition. They will be able to assess and treat you, help you get stronger, and make sure you have the advice and exercises you need to prevent this injury in the future.
2. Rest, Recover and Re-build Strength
‘No pain no gain’ is not always a beneficial approach. A physio can help calm down the irritated tissues and assess any underlying issues whether that be appropriate footwear, foot posture, lower limb biomechanics or lack of strength. This approach will allow you to train smarter, increase your load slowly and let your injury heal while preventing further occurrences in the future.
3. Do Your Exercises Daily
Exercise is like medicine, we need to do it daily to reap the benefits! This often involves specific exercises from your physio that focus on releasing tight tissues, strengthening weak muscles, and building back endurance so you can safely return to running. Some key exercises to focus on include:
- Mobility: trigger ball on feet, shins & calf
- Strength: eccentric calf lower off step
- Endurance: Single leg hop
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Andrew Ilieff is a physiotherapy based in Double Bay, Sydney. Andrew has successfully treated musculoskeletal problems on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. To book a consultation, click the link below.