New to running? Or dancing? If you are, you might have noticed a strange pain from your lower leg every now and then during a sprint. And if you, like most people, choose to ignore this occasional tugging at your lower leg, you might be in for a few weeks of agony. The condition is known as medial tibial stress syndrome or what people generally refer to as “shin splints.”
Shin splints occur when the muscles around the inner edge of the tibia (the longest bone in your lower leg, responsible for carrying your body weight) are over-exerted and inflamed. The stressed out muscles tug at the tibia causing you pain and discomfort. The “overloaded” issue is one of the most common sports injuries.
What Causes Shin Splints
Dancers, track athletes, and people who are physically active are bound to experience shin splints.1 One study found out that new military recruits had shin splints in the first 8 – 12 weeks of training. Any activity that makes you run or instantly start and stop movement can get you shin splints.2 3
Running – Too Fast Too Soon: If you are a new runner (congrats about trying to get fit!), the sudden movement is going to shock your body. It causes a lot of exertion on your leg muscles, particularly the lower half. And if you take on more than you could, stress builds up on the tibia and it leads to muscle inflammation. The tibia bone and muscles haven’t adapted to this new situation and you end up with a shin splint. It could happen in the anterior or posterior region. In fact, running coaches claim about 30 – 40% of beginners they train, experience shin splints.
One study found out inexperienced runners with shin splints had low bone density around the pain. After treatment, the low bone density had disappeared.4 The issue with bone density occurs from continuous strain due to a high impact activity. This coupled with the slight bending of the tibia during an activity causes shin splints.
On the other hand, experienced runners, over a course of time, build their tibia stronger and more resistant to stress. Hence they had no bone density issues.5
Even walking faster than usual can cause shin splints. Walking uphill and downhill, climbing stairs – any action that requires your shins to work overtime, can lead to shin splints. Also, if you have been walking too much on a hard or uneven surface, it adds pressure to your shins.6
Read Your Feet: A study revealed that sometimes the structure of your foot and leg could play a role in shin splints.7 People with flat feet or rigid feet might have a higher chance of getting it because there is excessive motion involved.8 Another study revealed that people with shin splints had a higher Achilles tendon angle during running.9
Take A Look At Your Shoes: If the cushioning of your shoes are ruined, toss them out immediately. Walking in worn out or poorly-fitting shoes over a period of time can sometimes cause shin splints. Shoes are built to provide proper support for your feet. It helps to cushion your foot’s impact on the ground. If you have flat feet, the perfect shoe can decrease your chance of getting shin splints.10
Measure Your Calf Muscles: One study revealed that women runners with weak and small calf muscles had higher chances of developing stress fractures. If you are prone to tibial stress fractures, you are prone to shin splints.11
Signs And Symptoms You Need To Look For
Diagnosing shin splints can be a little tricky since it shares similar signs with other issues like compartment syndrome and a stress fracture.
The major sign of a shin splints is a pain in the lower part of your leg, the region between your ankle and knee. In most situations, it would be concentrated on one leg. Most people have a dominant leg during walking or running, and this leads to more strain on a particular leg.
Also, the pain you feel isn’t limited to a specific spot on your leg, it is more generalized. The area feels sore and hurts more when you try lifting a foot and flexing it. If you think the pain is fixed to a particular area, it would probably be a stress fracture (a much serious issue).12 Another thing to watch out for is increased pain in the morning. This happens because the soft tissue around the lower leg hardens during sleep.
In the case of an anterior shin splint, the pain would radiate from the front area of your lower leg. If you have difficulty in raising your toes with your foot firmly on the ground, it could be an anterior shin splint.
In the instance of a posterior shin splint, the pain would feel like it’s coming from inside the surface of the tibia. The muscles that are linked to the inside edge of your shin bone are inflamed.
People tend to confuse compartment syndrome with shin splints since both deal with a sore lower leg. Compartment syndrome is a result of pressure buildup in a group (or compartment) of muscles.
How To Treat Shin Splints At Home
The first thing you need is to give to your body a break. Painful shins need rest for about 5 – 6 weeks or maybe more. Some people even take two months to completely recover. Needless to say, when you’re trying to recover, do not try to attempt the activity that gave you shin splints. Listen to your body and let the pain subside. This will allow your shins to heal.
Ice is your friend during this time. Just wrap a few ice cubes in a towel and gently pat it onto your shin. It should reduce the inflammation.13 You could do this multiple times a day for about 10 minutes.
If you’re up for low-intensity exercises, choose swimming or yoga. These can help heal shin splints faster because it doesn’t apply a lot of pressure to your shins and joints.14 Again, don’t overdo it. Cross-training is another great option to get those leg muscles to relax.
Yoga Poses For Shin Splints
1. Vajrasana Or Diamond Pose
The Vajrasana pose will relax and stretch your shin muscles. All you need to do is sit on your heels, making sure your back is straight. Do this for 2 – 3 minutes.
2. Viparita Karani Or Legs Up The Wall Pose
Another great way to get those shin muscles to loosen up is to practice viparita karani. Lie on your back and raise your legs up, using a wall as a prop. Let it rest for 5 minutes. With regular practice, you could do the pose without the support of a wall.
Do not let the fear of shin splints stop you from running or any other activity you enjoy. Running has proven to be one of the best ways to keep your leg muscles and bones in excellent health.15 Here’s what you need to do to prevent shin splints in the future.
- Get Equipped: If you want to run, you need the right things. Pick out running shoes that will give proper cushion and support. Treat them like an investment and take time to pick out the right shoe.16 Make sure to throw the shoes after you complete 500 miles in them. Also, use trainer’s tape as part of your activity. The tape helps to limit the strain felt on your lower leg.
- Start Slow: Remember, when you return to running after recovery, do not begin at the pace that got you shin splints. Increase your mileage at 10% weekly.
- Pace Yourself: Don’t take on exercises too quickly. Gradually build up speed and intensity. You need to train your legs to become stronger. Strength training is one way to build your calf muscles. These muscles are responsible for making your shin more resistant to injury.
- Stretch, stretch, and stretch!: You need to do this before you begin running for the day or any exercise. In fact, you need to stretch your muscles daily to keep them healthy and fit.17 Calf raises are one of the best ways to stretch and build leg muscles. Simply raise your heels slowly and stand on your toes. Return to a normal position after a few seconds. Do at least 15 reps.
Remember, do not let shin splints overwhelm you from doing what you love. Just follow these steps and be patient with your body. Happy running!
|↑1||Watson, Michael D. “Incidence of injuries in high school track and field athletes and its relation to performance ability.” The American journal of sports medicine 15, no. 3 (1987): 251-254|
|↑2||Heir, Trond. “Musculoskeletal injuries in officer training: one-year follow-up.” Military medicine 163, no. 4 (1998): 229|
|↑3||Powell, Kenneth E., Amanda E. Paluch, and Steven N. Blair. “Physical activity for health: What kind? How much? How intense? On top of what?.” Annual review of public health 32 (2011): 349-365|
|↑4||Magnusson, H. I.; Ahlborg, H. G.; Karlsson, C.; Nyquist, F.; Karlsson, M. K., Low regional tibial bone density in athletes with medial tibial stress syndrome normalizes after recovery from symptoms. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 2003, 31 (4), 596-600|
|↑5||Magnusson, H. I.; Ahlborg, H. G.; Karlsson, C.; Nyquist, F.; Karlsson, M. K., Low regional tibial bone density in athletes with medial tibial stress syndrome normalizes after recovery from symptoms. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 2003, 31 (4), 596-600.|
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|↑13||van den Bekerom, Michel PJ, Peter AA Struijs, Leendert Blankevoort, Lieke Welling, C. Niek Van Dijk, and Gino MMJ Kerkhoffs. “What is the evidence for rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy in the treatment of ankle sprains in adults?.” Journal of athletic training 47, no. 4 (2012): 435-443.|
|↑14||Galbraith, R. Michael, and Mark E. Lavallee. “Medial tibial stress syndrome: conservative treatment options.” Current reviews in musculoskeletal medicine 2, no. 3 (2009): 127-133.|
|↑15||Popp, K. L.; Hughes, J. M.; Smock, A. J.; Novotny, S. A.; Stovitz, S. D.; Koehler, S. M.; Petit, M. A., Bone Geometry, Strength, and Muscle Size in Runners with a History of Stress Fracture. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2009, 41 (12), 2145-2150.|
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|↑17||The importance of stretching. Harvard Health Publications.|