Shin splints, professionally known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is a condition of runners, athletes, and dancers and it’s usually a message from our body that we train too intensely or improperly. It usually starts as a dull ache in the shins, which can be mild or really severe and is often accompanied by swelling.
Shin splints usually occur in your dominant leg, but sometimes they appear in both legs. They may get so painful that it’s even difficult to stand or walk. Find out what leads to this troublesome condition, learn about the symptoms and how to get rid of it.
What Are Shin Splints
The term ‘shin splints’ is a colloquial expression that refers to pain in the front part of your lower leg. In medical terms it’s known as medial tibial stress syndrome. It happens when you repetitively expose your leg to impact-based pressure. In consequence the muscles on the back of your leg may fatigue and develop excessive bending of the tibia bone in the lower part of your leg.
As a result, the tendons and soft tissue in your front leg get inflamed and overused, which you feel as pain in your shins. If you want to get rid of the problem quickly, you first need to find out what the cause of it is as probably you will have to introduce some modifications into your workouts.
What Are The Causes of Shin Splints
The activity which triggers shin pain the most often is running. You may think that you won’t find an easier activity, but in reality you can make plenty of mistakes while running, which may lead to an injury.
Among the popular mistakes, running in a wrong way or with a bad form is probably number one. It happens if you deal with such problems as supination, overpronunciation, or fallen arches. Shin splints also happens if you run too frequently and your body doesn’t have enough time to recover between the runs. Running in a proper way and recovery times are crucial, especially if you are a beginner.
Where you run is very important too. If you mainly run on roads, pavements, or some unstable terrain, such as rocky hills or you frequently run uphill or downhill, you will put too much pressure on your shins and they may hurt. Thus, you should mainly run on surfaces that are created for running.
Another common mistake, also often made by beginners, is starting running too intensely, without slow progress. When we begin running we are usually very enthusiastic about it and we tend to be impatient as we want to see the results quickly. In consequence we run to often and too long, which unfortunately, usually ends up with an injury, instead of the success.
Both the beginners and the advanced runners often commit a sin of running without a proper warm-up before a run and stretching after running. It takes some time but it’s the only way to prevent injuries.
Also, remember that proper shoes are crucial if you start running regularly. Worn-out shoes may not support your feet anymore while new sneakers may need some time so that your feet could get used to them.
Shin splints usually happen when your body is not used to an intense activity and when your core muscles or muscles in the front of your legs are weak or inflexible. Thus, remember that only slow progression and patience are the key to success.
On the other hand, shin splints is a condition that affects experienced runners as well. One of the theories says that it’s because of so called muscle memory. It means that your joints, bones, and muscles somehow remember the injuries from the past, which makes you more susceptible to further injuries, even if you are sure that you fully recovered from the injury.
What Are The Symptoms of Shin Splints
Shin splints may start suddenly, which usually happens when you take up some new exercises, or it can develop over time. The main symptoms include pain and sensitivity in the lower part of your legs, mainly in the inside of your calf close to the Achilles tendon.
The pain often gets worse while exercising and in some cases you may be unable to run or even walk without pain. Standing for a long time might be painful too. You may also notice some small bumps and bruising on your shins or they can be swollen.
Four muscles take part in the formation of shin splints and these are the tibialis posterior, the tibialis anterior, soleus, and gastrocnemius. If these four crucial elements don’t cooperate as they should, you start to feel pain in your shins.
How to Get Rid of Shin Splints
In most cases you can deal with shin splint on your own by changing your everyday routine and the way you work out. If these measures don’t work, you will have to consult a healthcare professional.
1. Change Your Workout Routine
Runners are in the risk group of developing shin splints the most often. If this is also your case, for sure, you need to change your running routine. It’s possible that your shins hurt because you mainly run on an uneven terrain like rocky hills or on hard surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt. Try to switch to sand, grass, or a rubberized athletic track. Also, don’t run uphill or downhill too frequently.
It would be good if a professional couch or sportsperson observed you running to check if you have a proper technique. As the rolling in of ankles, known as over-pronation, or flat feet are very common causes of shin splints. For some people proper running comes naturally while others need to learn it as every other skill.
You should focus on your feet when you run. Start with lifting your toes and rolling the arches upward. Strike the ground with the outside of your foot as much as you can and gently roll the foot inward and then lift the heel.
The next thing you should do is change your running shoes. If they are badly fitted, too heavy or worn-out, they may also be the reason of shin splints development. Thus, your footwear should be stable, but lightweight.
It should firmly support your feet while running or doing some different sporting activity. Tie the shoes tightly as it will prevent putting strain on your feet and muscles in the lower part of your leg.
If you run really a lot, you should change your shoes every three months or every 600 kilometers. When you’re buying a new pair of shoes, choose them in the evening as your feet are slightly larger after a long day and this will help you fit the shoes better.
It’s also worth considering doing a different type of activity for some time. You should choose something which is less harmful for your shin muscles. Rowing, cycling and swimming are very good options. Especially swimming might be a good alternative as it involves all the muscles of your body and it actually burns even more calories than running.
Weightlifting is another great option, especially if you do it with your upper body as it also involves the whole of your body, it strengthens your core, and it burns a lot of calories.
2. Lose Weight
If you are overweight or obese, you are in the risk group of developing shin splints just from walking as you simply put too much pressure on your muscles and bones in your legs. Moreover, obese people tend to suffer from flat feet and overpronation more often too. Thus, if you’re a woman, you should aim at consuming less than 2,000 calories a day and 2,200 if you are a man.
You don’t need to switch to any special or radical diet, though. Very often eating more healthy is just enough to lose some weight. Drink a lot of water every day, eat lean meat and fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, and don’t forget about whole grains.
3. Have a Rest
You may not like it, but stop exercising for some time is often the best possible treatment for inflamed shins as the condition often occurs as the consequence of overtraining. Therefore, you should consider resting your legs for a few weeks, which of course doesn’t mean you should become a couch potato.
Once your shins stop aching, you should slowly introduce some activities on a regular basis, such as walking or hiking, and then after some time running. Meanwhile, try different activities which don’t put pressure on your shins, such as swimming or weightlifting relatively light weights.
Having a rest also means that you need to give your muscles time to recover. It’s called muscle recovery and it’s absolutely crucial if you want to do sports without injuries. Therefore, if you keep running despite the fact that your muscles are worn-out, instead of making progress, you just worsen the problem. Remember that it’s easier to prevent shin splits than later cure them.
4. Try Home Remedies
There are a few home remedies, which may effectively bring you relief from pain and speed up the healing process. You should start with ice compresses as they will calm the inflammation down. You should apply an ice pack at least four times a day, but don’t keep it longer than fifteen minutes at a time as otherwise it can cause further irritation. Use cold compresses for a few weeks, even if you stopped feeling pain.
You can also try taking a bath with Epsom salt as it’s rich in magnesium, which can wonderfully relax your muscles, reduce swelling, and alleviate the pain. The water should be warm, but don’t make it too hot. Stay in the bathtub for around fifteen minutes, making sure that your feet and lower legs are in the water.
Try an elastic wrap or a compression stocking as they can boost the blood circulation in your leg, which can speed up the recovery process. Moreover, compression bandages may also reduce the swelling and additionally support your leg.
Remember, though, that you can’t wrap it too tightly as then the effect might be the opposite to the desired one as it can cut off the blood circulation. The sign that you need to loosen it is the feeling of numbness or tingling. Every time you have a rest or apply ice, keep your legs above the level of your heart as it can reduce the inflammation and swelling.
You can also try massaging your calves and feet. Do it every day with circular movements to improve the blood circulation. This, in result, may help you reduce the pain and swelling. Combine it with foam rolling for even better results.
Put a foam roller on the floor and position your body on the top of it so that the roller is directly under your calves. Now, you just need to move back and forth. Follow it on the back and on the sides of your calves as well.
5. Try Stretching Exercises
The key rule to fully recover from shin splints is patience and not rushing anything. If you had taken a break from exercises, you should start coming back to your workouts by doing slow shin stretches, which will warm up your calves and ankles.
You can begin with so called standing calf stretches. Stand up in front of the wall and put your hands on the wall at the level of your eyes. Keep your arms and elbows straight and extended. The injured leg should be kept back and your heel on the floor.
Put your other leg forward, bend your knee forward with your back foot a little bit inward. Now, lean into the wall, you should feel a stretch in the back calf. Stay in this position for around twenty seconds. Repeat the exercise a few times a day.
Anterior compartment stretches are also a good idea as they can wonderfully stretch the muscles and tendons on your shin. Stand sideways close to a wall with the affected leg further from the wall. Place one hand on the wall for better balance.
Now, bend the knee in the injured leg and hold your foot behind you. The front of your foot should be bent towards your heel. Stay in this position for around twenty seconds, you will a stretch on your shin while exercising. Repeat it three times.
Another exercise is known as standing toe raises. Stand up with your feet kept flat on the floor. Now rock back on your heels and lift your toes. It should cause a stretch in the ankle. Hold it for about five seconds and then roll your feet back on the floor. You should do two sets of fifteen stretches.
6. Try Over-the-Counter Products
Remember that shin splints are partially caused by the inflammation in your muscles. Therefore, it’s worth taking some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers for a couple of days. The most common ones are aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
Take them as it’s recommended in the package so usually every four to six hours in case of ibuprofen and every twelve hours in case of naproxen. If over-the-counter products don’t work, you should avoid exercising and consult your doctor.
7. Seek Professional Help
In case of shin splints it’s worth consulting a specialist, for example, a massage therapist can help you a lot. A massage given by a specialist can wonderfully reduce the tension of your muscles and inflammation, it will improve your blood circulation and can break down scar tissue.
The therapist will perform a massage from your feet to the knee area. He can also press the most painful points within your muscles, which is known as trigger point therapy.
A good physical therapist may also be very helpful in your fight against shin splints. He can cure your muscles with electrotherapy, which will reduce inflammation and pain. After diagnosing you, the therapist will show you stretching exercises and exercises that will strengthen the lower part of your legs.
Go to a top quality running store. People who work there are usually experienced runner, who will assess your legs, feet, and your footwear. Get filmed as you run so that a professional runner may have a look at the technique of your running.
Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese therapy, is an interesting option too as many people who dealt with shin splints report that it’s very effective. The technique is about sticking needles into some energy points in your body. When it’s well performed, it releases a large amount of endorphins and serotonin, which naturally reduces pain and inflammation.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
There are a few measures which you can take in order to prevent shin splints in the future, no matter if you are a beginner or an experienced runner.
The first rule is to invest in top quality running shoes. You need to feel that your feet are well supported in them, but also they will be able to absorb the pressure of running. If you are a serious runner, remember to change your shoes every 500 miles. Buy your shoes only in reputable sports shops.
If you have a tendency to shin splints development, buy orthotic inserts, which will support your arches and prevent pain and shin splints. You can purchase the inserts in every pharmacy and they fit inside most running shoes.
Don’t stick to running only. Instead try different activities which won’t put so much pressure on your shins. Walking, swimming, or cycling are very good options. Remember, though, not to start to aggressively. Just gradually increase the time and intensity of your workouts.
Include strength workout into your sporting activities. Work with lighter weights to strengthen the muscles in your legs. A great exercise is toe raising with holding weights in both hands. Simply rise up on your toes and then lower the heels to the floor. Do it slowly and repeat it ten times. Increase the weight gradually.
When to See a Doctor
If pain in your shin doesn’t want to go away after a few days or even weeks, despite the facts you tried various possible treatments or home remedies, you should make an appointment with your family doctor.
He should thoroughly examine you and ask you detailed questions about your pain, workouts, diet, and family history. It’s probable that you will need to have your blood tests done as blood glucose level, deficiency of potassium and vitamin D, and calcium imbalance may have an influence on shin splints development.
It’s also possible that you will have to visit a circulatory or musculoskeletal specialist, or other type of a healthcare professional. Your family doctor, however, may also recommend you some anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as naproxen or ibuprofen. He will also prescribe you some stronger medicines if your shins are really painful.
In very rare cases some serious conditions may actually mimic shin splints, for example stress fractures of tibia, diabetic neuropathy, bone cancer, venous insufficiency, or chronic compartment syndrome. Thus, if nothing seems to work on your shin splints, a medical specialist such as orthopedist or a vascular surgeon may have to diagnose you.
He may recommend you vascular ultrasound, which will let your doctor evaluate the functioning of your arteries and veins in the lower part of your leg. Bone scans and x-rays may turn out to be helpful in case some more serious diseases, such as fractures or bone cancer.
It’s extremely important to get the right diagnosis and identify the cause of your problem with shins. Therefore, it’s crucial to choose a reputable professional, who will explain you the issue and offer you various possible treatments. He should also eliminate some serious conditions that may have similar symptoms to shin splints.
However, getting medical care in case of shin splint happens very rarely as changing your exercise routine or footwear is usually enough to get rid of the problem.