I hate the term shin splints. Everyone thinks they have shin splints. The truth is, some do, many do not. Shin splints have come to symbolize every single ache and pain that someone has in their lower leg. Shin splints are however, a generic term for a specific condition.
The true term for a shin splint is Medial Tibial Stress syndrome. Medial – meaning on the inside of the lower leg. Stress – meaning that it is an overuse, chronic problem. Too many people misdiagnosis themselves thinking they have shin splints when their pain and inflammation is on the outside, meaty portion of the lower leg, or many think it is when they have direct pain over the bone itself. Neither are true shin splints.
Shin splints can be caused by a variety of factors, but the number one way is by not having enough arch support in the middle of your foot. When the strength of the arch breaks down, and you then add repetitive stress to it, such as running, you will get a breakdown of the muscle the runs from the arch to the medial (inside) portion of the tibia (shin bone). Micro-tears begin in the area, causing pain and inflammation.
Not having enough arch support can be caused by a whole host of factors, but usually it is a combination of lack of support in your footwear, the running surface, and training protocol. Also imbalances in the lower leg, such as over-active, tight calf muscles, weak, under developed lateral muscles, and biomechanical troubles, can all lead to weakened and stressed arches on the feet.
Shin Splints can go through stages with people. Many symptoms go away on their own after a few weeks of training, and other people have the misfortune of battling with them all season and need additional help to combat the pain and disability that shin splints produce.
So what do you do if you suffer from shin splints? The following advice is not guaranteed to get rid of shin splints for good, but I will assure you that these methods are tried and true and have worked seemingly miracles for many people.
1. Ice Ice Baby – Ice them BEFORE and AFTER your activity. 20 min of ice before your practice, game or exercise bout. This will do wonders for the pain and inflammation. An ice bag will do well, but for maximal effect, try a large bucket of ice water.
2. ADVIL or your choice of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agent. Again, this will cut the pain and inflammation a lot and help you deal with the issue better.
3. Stretch those calves – Most people have over-active calf muscles, Stretch them each day. 20 seconds to a minute of a straight stretch for each calf. 10 reps of more. The looser the muscle, the less stress that is put on the arches.
4. Arch Support!! – Get yourself some arch supports. Artificial arch supports (like the kind you buy in your local drug store or shoe store) will give your arches a huge amount of support and many times take your symptoms away immediately. If you have access to athletic tape, you can tape your arches as well. This will give your arches a little stronger, immediate support.
5. Shoes– Make sure your shoes are supportive. This is even more important than getting artificial supports. Pick shoes that have a decent amount of arch support and that give you good shock absorption. If you are exercising or practicing on old shoes and have shin splints, go BUY NEW SHOES. Old, worn out shoes are the number one culprit usually for shin problems.
6. Playing Surfaces- There is not much you can do about where you play, but certain playing surfaces can cause shin problems to occur. If you can find alternative surfaces to train on, find a surface that causes less pain during and after you are training.
Remember, shin splints are due to repetitive stresses to the feet and lower leg musculature. In dealing with this, you have to find the root of the problem and correct it. Usually this comes from faulty arches. Shin splints can be an indirect cause of stress fractures if they are not dealt with. If you are having shin pain, try the above suggestions first. If they don’t bring relief, then I am afraid you may just have to take some time off and let things heal. Either way, you will eventually get back to optimal health and play or exercise without pain.