Shin splints…WHY do they happen?!
Have you ever had that aching, burning sensation in the front part of your lower leg….and it gets worse as you continue your activity? This is referred to as shin splints.
So, what are they exactly? Shin splints are when you feel pain along the inside of the shin bone. When the muscles in the lower leg pull on the sheath that surrounds the shin bone, this can lead to pain and inflammation. It’s usually due to overuse of these muscles, and results in a burning pain.
There are several causes of shin splints:
1. Too much, too soon: If you’ve just started an activity, such as running or playing a new sport, and the intensity is more than you’re used to, it can be too much on your front leg muscles. So, the key is to properly warm up beforeyou begin any activity.
2. Improper footwear: As with any activity, you want to make sure you have proper support for your feet, and the appropriate shoes for your foot type. For instance, if you have pronated, or flat feet, and you wear a shoe with very little support, this will place more strain on your leg muscles…which makes you more susceptible to shin splints.
3. Muscle imbalance: If you have stronger leg or calf muscles and weak anterior, or front leg muscles, this can lead to shin splints. Also, weakness in the hip muscles can lead to lower leg pain…which is something that’s often overlooked.
4. Tightness in the muscles surrounding the ankle: If you have decreased flexibility in the ankle, you may benefit from stretching of the calf and the front leg muscles to reduce the strain on the shin area.
So, if you end up with shin splints….what should you do?
The basic principles of RICE will help a lot – this includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation for the first couple of days to ease the inflammation. Then, to make sure this doesn’t return, here are a few more things you can do!
1. Rest from the aggravating activity: Take a break from the activity that’s causing your discomfort…for instance if you just started running or increasing your mileage, take a break for 3-4 days so the pain and inflammation can calm down, and perhaps try walking instead. The biggest mistake you can make is to continue the painful activity, as this will lead to bigger problems down the road.
2. Hands on manual treatment: Working on the muscles that have become irritated and loosening up any tight areas will help relieve your pain. It’s best to seek help from a physical therapist, after they properly assess your condition they can figure out which manual techniques are best!
3. Strengthening and stretching exercises: This will ultimately get you back to what you want to be doing, whether it’s running, playing a sport, hiking, etc. A good balance between stretching and strengthening of the leg muscles will help you be able to tolerate the activity, without causing pain and inflammation. Try heel walks as an exercise-walk on your heels for 30 seconds to one minute as a warm up.
I hope this helps! If you need any further help with your shin splints, please feel free to reach out to me, as I can point you in the right direction!
Thanks for reading, and cheers to your health!
Shaheen Siddiqui, MSPT
"We help active adults and athletes get back to doing the activities they love, without relying on painkillers or injections."
Shaheen Siddiqui, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist