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Complete Guide To Shin Splints

What Are Shin splints?

Shin splint is an injury that occurs due to an overuse of the shinbone, the large front bone in the lower leg.

It often occurs when the muscles, tendons, and bone tissues have been overexerted and overused. It often happens to athletes who have lately changed or increased their workout patterns. 

The pain is commonly felt at the front of the lower leg, at the shin bone. The discomfort often moves to the lower leg, just between the knee and ankle. Shin splint is also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). 

People who occasionally engage in mild to intense physical activities are more likely to develop shin splints. People who engage in vigorous exercises or stop-start sports like tennis, racquetball, soccer, or basketball are also susceptible to shin splints.

Often, the discomfort felt from shin splints can be so harsh that you must quit or halt the activity. Shin splints are a cumulative stress disorder. Repeatedly pounding or putting stress or burden on the bones, muscles, and joints of the lower legs stop the body from repairing the damage and restoring itself. 

Causes of Shin Splints

Shin splints often occur due to putting an immense amount of force on the shinbone and the tissues that attach the shin bone to the muscles surrounding it. 

The excessive force results in a swelling of the muscles and causes a rise in the pressure placed on the bone, resulting in discomfort, swelling, and inflammation. 

Stress reactions to bone fractures can also cause shin splints. The repeated throbbing can result in small cracks in the bones of the legs. However, the body can mend the cracks if given enough time. If the body isn’t given enough rest, the small cracks can become a total fracture or a stress fracture. 

Some of the other factors that can cause shin splints are:

  • Flat foot syndrome. 
  • Weakness of muscles in the areas surrounding the thighs or buttocks.
  • Little or no flexibility.
  • Inappropriate training methods.
  • Occasional downhill running.
  • Running on tilted or jagged and irregular terrain.
  • Running on rough surfaces like concrete.
  • Using old, outdated, or worn-out shoes for running, jogging, or performing workouts.
  • Partaking in sporting activities with lots of starts and stops (these exercises include soccer or downhill skiing).

Shin splints can also occur when the muscles of your legs and tendons are tired and overworked. Women with flat feet syndrome, rigid arches, athletes, military recruits, and dancers are susceptible to shin splints. 

Symptoms of Shin Splints

If you have shin splints, the following are symptoms that will manifest:

  • Faint throbbing in the front part of the lower leg.
  • Sharp, sudden pain during workout activities.
  • Discomfort on either part of the shin bone.
  • Pain in the muscles.
  • Feelings of discomfort along the inner part of the lower leg.
  • Swelling or inflammation in the lower leg (often faint, if present).
  • Feelings of numbness and weakness in the feet.

Do not hesitate to consult your doctor if you experience the following symptoms as well:

  • Sharp, intense pain in your shin after falling or after an accident.
  • A burning feeling in the shin (feelings of hotness).
  • Visible swelling or inflammation of the shin.
  • Discomfort in your shin even while you are at rest.

Shin Splints Relief

Below are some ways to relieve pain from shin splints:

Rest

It is imperative to take a rest from intense activities until your pain has reduced. This period of rest might be within two to six weeks. Resting does not mean you halt all activities, only those activities that cause your shin to hurt or that require pounding your legs hard. Try low-impact exercises such as swimming, stationary cycling, walking, water walking, and training on elliptical machines for a change. When your pain has reduced, gently return to your former activities but in milder conditions. For example, if you run every morning, run on soft grounds or grass and only run for short periods before slowly increasing the pace.

Ice

Placing an ice pack on your legs for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, 3 to 8 times every day. This will help alleviate the discomfort and swelling. Proceed with the ice treatment for a few days. You can also wrap the ice in a thin towel for better comfort around your legs. You can also use the ice pack to massage the area affected.

Elevate

Either while sitting or lying down, always keep your legs elevated with pillows or putting them on an elevated surface to lessen swelling. Make sure your legs are promoted to the point that is higher than your heart.

Compression

Wear calf compression sleeves to lessen inflammation and swelling around your shins.

Shin Splints Stretch

Performing stretching exercises can help you reduce and relieve shin splint pain. If you think you have shin splints, perform these stretches every day. You can combine them with the R.I.C.E protocol (Rest, Ice, compression, and Elevation) for better results:

Seated Shin Stretch

This outstretch focuses the muscles at the back of the lower leg and helps lessen the pain felt in the shin area.

How to perform

  • Start by kneeling, and sit down gradually so that your heels are positioned under your gluteus, while your knees will be at your front.
  • Lay your hands on the ground behind you and tilt back slightly.
  • Gradually apply force on your heels, pushing down with your body weight to feel the stretch.
  • Raise your knees slightly off the ground to heighten the pressure.
  • Maintain the position for 30 seconds. Release and repeat three times.

Soleus Muscle Stretch

This will target the muscles in the back of the calf.

How to perform 

  • Stand while facing a wall or closed door.
  • Position both hands on the wall (or door).
  • Place one foot slightly behind the other.
  • Gradually squat down until both knees are bent so you can feel the stretch. Make sure both heels are kept on the floor.
  • Maintain for 30 seconds. Release and repeat up to 3 times.
  • If you so desire, switch the leg placed in front.

Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch

This stretch helps you relieve shin splint pain.

How to perform

  • Stay in front of a wall or a closed-door you can push against.
  • Position both hands on the wall.
  • Place one foot behind (the one you are trying to stretch) and keep it straight. Stoop your front knee and keep both feet flat on the floor.
  • Bend your torso a little forward and feel the stretch in your calf. You might need to move your straight leg back a little bit to feel the time.
  • Maintain the position for 20 seconds and rest a bit. Repeat three times.
  • If you so desire, you can change legs.

Calf Raises

Calf raises aid in strengthening the muscles of the calf, and this helps in alleviating some pain.

How to perform 

  • Stand on a step (stair step) or a stool with the balls of your feet standing on the stool and the other half suspended off it.
  • Gradually raise on your toes and then drop down, stretch your foot and calf muscles as you lower your heels. Hold for 10-20 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat this 3 to 5 times.

Foam Rolling

Using a foam roller can help lessen inflammation and may help reduce shin splint pain. Here’s how to “roll out” your shins.

How to perform 

  • Begin by placing your knees and hands on the foam roller on roller underneath your chest.
  • Move your right knee toward your face and gently position your right shin on the foam roller. 
  • Slowly roll your shin up and down, making sure your left leg is kept on the ground to maintain the pressure.
  • After performing a few rolls or finding a painful spot, you should stop, flex and stretch out your ankles before continuing.
  • If you want to, you can switch legs.

Shin Splints vs. Stress Fracture

Shin Splints

Shin splints are caused by overuse of the shin bone, muscles, and tendons. It is also known as medial tibial stress syndrome.

It can be caused by flat feet, putting on shoes that don’t fit well, or providing good support for the feet—exercising without warming up or cool-down stretches. Symptoms often include pain in the leg and pain in the lower leg after exercise sessions.

Stress Fracture

This is a small, minute crack in a bone that occurs due to repetitive pressure or force, often caused by overuse. 

The types of forces that can cause stress fractures to include jumping up and down or running long distances.

Symptoms often include pain in the bones, swelling, and inflammation that have been going on for a long while, difficulty walking, or softness around the bones.

Shin Splints treatment 

Physical Therapy: You might need to employ the aid of a physical therapist in treating shin splints. He will also create a treatment plan for you. He may also prescribe the following:

  • Taking a rest from intense activities or exercises.
  • Place ice packs on the areas affected for 5 to 10 minutes, 3 times a day.
  • Specific workouts and training stretch the muscles around the shin.
  • Taping the arch of the foot or the muscles of the affected leg.
  • Massaging the injured tissue.

Your physical therapist may also teach you some exercises that will help make your weak muscles get stronger. These exercises include:

  • Exercises boost the strength of hip rotation, hip abduction (lifting the leg away from the other portion), and hip extension (raising your leg and placing it behind your body) to reduce the pressure on the lower leg.
  • Exercises that enhance the strength of the arch and the shin muscles to curb flattening out of the foot’s arch. 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture effectively treats shin splints by allowing the natural flowing of energy flow throughout the body. In the Traditional Chinese Medical beliefs, Qi (energy) flows through the body via pathways known as meridians. Using this principle, one can see shin splints as a river that has been blocked or dammed. Acupuncture treatment should be administered daily for about 3-5 days before stretching it to 2-3 times a week spanning over several weeks. Often, several needles will be placed on the affected muscle and any other points on the body that reduce pain and inflammation.

Surgery

It is very unusual to treat shin splints with surgery. However, should your shin splints be causing severe pain and discomfort that span for several months, your doctor may prescribe surgery.

Surgery to treat a shin splint is called FASCIOTOMY. In this procedure, your doctor will make incisions or openings in the fascia tissue surrounding your calf muscles. This will reduce the discomfort caused by shin splints.

Braces and Compression Sleeve

Using a supportive brace on your shin bone may also aid in reducing the burden the tendons face. Before you use a brace, speak with your doctor or physical therapist if you require one and the right kind of shin brace suitable for you. You should ask your doctor if you can use a shin brace at night before you go to bed. Wearing a compression sleeve will protect an injured shin from further injuries.

Exercises for Shin Splints

Toe Stretch

Begin by standing while ensuring your feet are together. Crouch down onto your heels. Bend your knees towards the floor while keeping the toes tucked under. Place your hands on the floor if the intensity of the stretch is enough. To intensify the time, move your hands up your thighs as you pile your shoulders over your hips. Remain in the position for 45 seconds.

Shin Stretch

Shake out your feet after performing the toe stretch. Relax on your shins while placing the tops of the flat feet on the floor. Place your inner ankles and inner calves together. Place your hands on the ground just behind you and gently lean back. As you lean back, your knees might lift depending on how flexible your body is. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat two more times.

Other exercises include:

  • Seated Calf Stretch
  • Toe walking exercise 
  • Heel walking exercise
  • Standing Ankle dorsiflexion stretch.

Natural Remedies for Shin Splints

Below are some ways to treat shin splints at home. The remedies are simple and do not require much stress.

  • Do not work through the pain: You should desist from working or performing any of your usual activities. If you do, you will only increase the pain and cause a more significant injury. Stay off your feet.
  • Ice is the best treatment for reducing swelling and inflammation caused by any sports injury, and shin splints are no exception. Just place an ice pack over the affected area.
  • Use an ointment like Joint Mud to relieve pain and promote mobility when engaging in activities. 

Other remedies include:

  • Taping
  • Taking NSAIDs
  • Don’t run on uneven surfaces.

Shin Splints Prevention 

You can take the following steps to avoid or prevent shin splints:

  • Putting on shoes that fit well. Wearing oversized or undersized shoes will cause shin splints.
  • You can use shock-absorbing insoles. You can get some good insoles online at Amazon.
  • Do not perform exercises on rough or uneven surfaces. 
  • If you want to increase your training session or intensity, do it gradually.
  • Warming up before exercises.
  • Stretch properly after exercises.
  • Perform exercises that specifically build strength, especially toe exercises that develop calf muscles.
  • Do not exercise through the pain.

Conclusion 

Shin splints, or MTSS, is a common leg injury. Treating it early with ice packs and taking lots of rest can help manage the pain. It would help if you also considered doing low-impact exercises when your pain reduces.

If home treatments do not work well or the symptoms do not reduce, do not hesitate to contact your doctor.

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