What are Shin Splints and How Can They Be Treated?
by Aurora Detor
Shin splints. The runner’s nightmare. The HIIT trainer’s worst enemy. A (literal) pain in the shin, if we may be so bold.
No matter what activity you’re doing, if you’re using your legs in any kind of high-impact way, there’s a chance you can get a shin splint that will really cramp your style (and your leg). Luckily, shin splints are not typically permanent, and often can be treated at home - though we recommend reaching out to your doctor first, just to make sure!
We’re going to dive deep into the types, causes, exercises, and treatments for shin splints - including what NOT to do if you find yourself with one. So sit back, take the pressure off your leg, and let’s get this shin-dig started!
What Are Shin Splints?
Great question! Shin splints are a common lower leg injury that affects athletes, runners, dancers, and pretty much anyone who engages in activities that put extra stress on their legs. Fun fact, the medical term for shin splints is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) - it’s caused by repetitive stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue in the shin area. They typically last between 2-4 weeks.
Shin splints can often be mistaken for stress fractures (and vice versa), which are much more serious and often require medical intervention. That’s why you should be sure that you know what you’re dealing with by contacting a doctor first!
If you know you’ve got a shin splint (or are just a little curious), keep reading!
What Do Shin Splints Feel Like?
While everyone’s pain threshold is different, there is a generally agreed-upon description: It often feels like a dull, aching pain or a sharp, stabbing pain that can be felt along the inner edge of the shinbone. The pain may be accompanied by tenderness or soreness in the affected area, which can make it difficult to walk, run, or perform other physical activities. In some cases, the pain may worsen during exercise and then subside once the activity is stopped. Shin splints can be a frustrating and painful condition that can significantly impact a person's ability to engage in physical activity, and it is important to seek medical attention if the pain persists or worsens.
Note that shin splints are often accompanied by a blunt pain that runs along your shin. If you only feel a sharp pain in one specific area, you may have a stress fracture. Talk to your doctor before trying out any treatments at home!
Types of Shin Splints
Shin splints can be divided into 2 categories based on the affected area:
Anterior Shin Splints: This type of shin splint is caused by inflammation of the anterior tibialis muscle. This muscle is located at the front of the shin, and it is responsible for dorsiflexion (lifting) of the foot. Anterior shin splints can occur when there is repetitive stress on the muscle, such as during activities like running or jumping.
If you’re feeling pain in the front of your shin, chances are your shin splint is anterior!
Posterior Shin Splints: This type of shin splint is caused by inflammation of the posterior tibialis muscle. This muscle is located at the back of the shin, and it is responsible for supporting the arch of the foot. Posterior shin splints can occur when there is excessive pronation (inward rolling) of the foot, which places extra stress on the muscle. If your pain is in the back, you’ve got a posterior shin splint.
What Causes Shin Splints?
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, it’s time to get into what brought this pain into our lives in the first place. Believe it or not, it isn’t just running that brings on this painful condition:
One of the most common causes of shin splints is overuse. This occurs when the muscles, tendons, and bone tissues in the lower leg are subjected to repetitive stress and strain, leading to inflammation and pain. Athletes who engage in high-impact sports, such as running, basketball, and soccer, are particularly prone to overuse injuries.
Flat Feet/High Arches
Another common cause of shin splints is foot type! Flat feet and high arches can both contribute to the development of shin splints. Flat feet cause the feet to roll inward excessively, while high arches cause the feet to roll outward. Both of these foot types can lead to abnormal stress on the lower leg, resulting in shin splints.
Wearing improper footwear while engaging in physical activity isn’t just bad for your feet, it’s bad for your entire body (sorry guys). Shoes that do not provide adequate support, cushioning, or stability can increase stress on the lower leg and cause shin splints.
Muscle imbalances in the lower leg (such as limping or developing an imbalanced walk) can also contribute to the development of shin splints. When certain muscles are overused and others are underused, it can cause abnormal stress on the bones and tissues in the lower leg, leading to pain and inflammation.
Running on Hard Surfaces
Running on hard surfaces, such as concrete, asphalt, and even treadmills can also contribute to the development of shin splints. These surfaces do not absorb shock as well as softer surfaces, such as grass or dirt, leading to increased stress on the lower leg.
Increasing Training Intensity Too Quickly
Finally, increasing training intensity too quickly can also lead to the development of shin splints. It may be enticing to ramp up your training or workouts in the hopes of seeing more results faster, but the reality is that this often does more harm than good.
Athletes who ramp up their training too quickly are likelier to experience overuse injuries like shin splints.
Exercises to Avoid if You Have a Shin Splint
Shin splints are most commonly caused by high-intensity exercise, so it’s no surprise that these kinds of impact-heavy movements should be avoided:
High-Impact Exercises: We’ll start with the most obvious! High-impact exercises such as running, jumping, and plyometrics can put a lot of stress on your lower legs and exacerbate the pain of shin splints. These exercises involve a lot of impact on the ground and can cause micro-tears in the muscles and bones of your legs.
Hill Running: Big no-no! The incline of the hill can cause your foot to strike the ground at an awkward angle, which can exacerbate the pain of shin splints. If you have shin splints, it is best to avoid hill running until your symptoms have subsided.
Jumping Exercises: Jumping exercises such as box jumps, jump squats, and jump lunges can be particularly hard on your shins. These exercises involve a lot of impact on the ground and can cause micro-tears in your muscles and bones.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest. While HIIT can be an effective way to burn calories and improve cardiovascular fitness, it can also be hard on your shins. Many HIIT exercises involve jumping, running, and other high-impact activities that can exacerbate the pain of shin splints.
Leg Presses: Leg presses are a common exercise that targets your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. If you have shin splints, it is best to avoid leg presses until your symptoms have subsided.
Alternative Exercises and Treatment Stretches for Shin Splints
Toe Raises: Toe raises are a simple exercise that can help strengthen the muscles in your lower leg. To do this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and lift your heels off the ground. Hold for a few seconds and then lower your heels back to the ground. Repeat this exercise for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Calf Stretches: To do this exercise, stand facing a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on the wall and step back with one foot, keeping your heel on the ground. Lean forward, keeping your back leg straight, until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs. Repeat this exercise 3 times on each leg.
Resistance Band Exercises: For this exercise, sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Loop a resistance band around the ball of one foot and hold the other end of the band with your hands. Flex your foot, pulling the band towards you, and then point your foot, pushing the band away from you. Repeat this exercise for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each leg.
Ankle Circles: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Lift one foot off the ground and rotate your ankle in a circular motion. Repeat this exercise for 10-15 repetitions on each foot.
Toe Taps: Toe taps can help improve coordination and balance, which can be beneficial for runners and athletes. To do this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lift one foot off the ground. Tap the toes of your lifted foot on the ground, alternating between tapping the big toe and tapping the pinky toe. Repeat this exercise for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each foot.
How to Treat Shin Splints
Aside from stretching, the treatment of shin splints typically involves a combination of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Here’s a rundown:
Rest: Avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain and discomfort is important to allow the shin to heal properly.
Compression Therapy: Compression therapy involves using compression garments, such as sleeves or socks, to apply pressure to the affected area. This pressure helps to improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and provide support to the muscles and tissues in the shin area. Compression therapy can be a useful tool in the treatment of shin splints, as it can help alleviate symptoms and promote healing. Compression garments should be worn during physical activity and can also be worn during periods of rest to help alleviate pain and discomfort.
We recommend the calf sleeve for any shin splint pain and ache. It’s perfect for a faster recovery, takes down the swelling, and is copper-infused to prevent bacteria growth, and can be worn day or night, anytime, anywhere.
Ice: Applying ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
Elevation: If you’re laying down, try elevating your leg on a few pillows. This helps to decrease swelling and take some of that pain down!
Shin splints are a huge bummer - but you don’t have to take that burden on all by yourself! We’ve got everything you need for a fast recovery on our website - and don’t forget to read up on all the latest and greatest in natural pain relief on our blog!
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