What to do During and After Shin Splint Injuries

Posted in Shin   |   By

Jeremy Gesicki

November 13, 2018

If you participate in sports or regular exercise, then you know the advantages feeling healthy and fit. You have more energy to live life to the fullest, you feel great about your exercise accomplishments, as well you should, and you probably are in fantastic shape. Exercise is a invigorating experience that refreshes the body, mind, and spirit. And, of course, doctors everywhere are encouraging people to participate in more exercise. However, whenever you get involved with sports or exercising, you are bound to have a setback or two along the way. You may trip and fall, overwork your muscles, strain a muscle, or even endure a sprain. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't have to be the end of exercising or even a completely "down" time for you. With the proper support, you can be up and running again. That doesn't mean you won't feel some pain and be discouraged, but you can heal faster. By educating yourself about your condition and taking proactive steps to care for your injury, you can alleviate pain more quickly.

calf muslce of a male runner on rough terrain

Shin Splints: A Common Sports Injury 

Sports injuries are all too common. It seems to come with the game. Whether you're playing a rough contact sport like football where you expect to get injured or you are playing something as mild as tennis, the likelihood of dealing with at least a minor injury is high. One injury that seems to be more common no matter sport or exercise you participate in is shin splints. A shin splint can happen suddenly and leave you in considerable pain. Let's take a closer look at shin splint injuries.

 

What is a shin splint?

Your shin bone, also referred to as referred to as the tibia, is located between your knee and ankle and is in the front of your leg. The medical term for shin splints is medial tibia stress syndrome. The name is derived from the fact that stress to the tibia bone is what leads to the painful condition of shin splints. So, shin splints are a painful condition that occurs to the tibia bone.

 

What happens to the leg when you develop shin splints?

Shin splints result when leg muscles, tendons, and tissue near the bone swell for various reasons (which we will explain later). This puts pressure on the tibia bone and causes inflammation and pain. Once you have swelling and inflammation, it will take time and care to eliminate the problem.

Some people develop shin splints in another way. By continually hitting a hard surface, you may actually cause small tears in your bone, which can lead to shin splints.

 

Who gets shin splints?

Shin splints are common to get and can happen to anyone. Usually, people who participate in running or activities that involve running are prone to develop shin splints on occasion. Some people get them when they run on hard surfaces because they are continually pounding on a hard surface. This can cause wear and tear and inflammation.

 

Reasons you may get shin splints:

Feet issues

Over-pronation of the foot can cause some people to get shin splints. Over-pronation happens when your foot turns inward when you walk. Usually, people with little to no arch will have over-pronation. As the foot twists inward, the tibia muscle does too. As a result, this overworks the muscle leading to inflammation of the tissue and muscles in that area and finally leading to shin splints. The way to combat this problem is to catch it before it causes real damage. If you know you have a flat foot already, then take steps to correct your arch by using special supportive socks.

Shoe problems

You can also get over-pronation if you do not have a properly fitted pair of shoes. If your shoes are too loose, then you will twist around in them and not have the support you need. This will do the same thing to your tibia as having over-pronation. Your leg will twist back and forth as you run or exercise leading to shin splints.

 

Overdoing your exercise

Obviously, whenever you overdo your workout, there is always the risk of injuring yourself. If you run downhill or run too hard or run and stop suddenly, then you put yourself at more risk of getting injured. Take the proper precautions before exercising.

 

Forgetting to warm up or cool down when exercising

It's the parts of an exercise routine that often get overlooked — the warm up and cool down sessions. With how hurried and busy people's lives can be, it's easy to just rush right into the exercising without taking the time to let your muscles warm up. This is a critical part of exercising because when you attempt to exercise without warming up, you increase the likelihood of injury. When you take time to warm up your muscles, you are in fact warming up your core body temperature. You are supplying heat to your muscles which makes it easier for those muscles to perform. You can think of the warmth as a type of lubrication in a way because it allows the muscle to be lengthened and shortened safely. If you jump into your routine without warming those muscles up, then you may get a tear, swelling, or inflammation to any of the muscles. This includes the tibia resulting in shin splints.

 

Weakness

Finally, you may get a shin splint if your muscles are too weak for whatever exercise you're asking it to perform. If you are putting a lot of pressure on your legs for an extended period of time such as during running, but you haven't built up sufficient leg muscle yet, then you may experience swelling and consequently shin splints.

 

Do I have a shin splint?

The main symptom indicating that you may have shin splints is pain in your lower leg. The pain may be in the front part of your lower leg right on the shin bone. Or it could be along the sides of the shin bone. Pain may be on one side of the shin or the other. In addition, you may simply feel muscle pain in the calf area. Some people may have mild visible swelling in the lower leg and soreness when touching the leg. Finally, if you have numbness or weakness in your feet, then that could indicate shin splints as well. However, this could also be indicative of other issues, so be sure to check with your physician for an accurate diagnosis.

 

How can I speed up the recovery process?

As much as you'd like to make the shin splints disappear overnight, you'll have to give it time to heal. Since one of the main reasons a person gets shin splints is because of too much stress on the lower legs, it means that rest is one of the main ingredients for recuperation. That doesn't mean you have to stop your exercise regimen altogether but the hard impact exercises will have to wait. Other steps to take during your recovery are:

  • Use a cold pack on your legs a few times a day for about 15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Take medication for pain. If you don't have stomach issues, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines work best because they help reduce the swelling.
  • Wear compression leggings and/or bandages to help with the swelling and to provide support for your legs. 
  • Make sure you have properly fitted shoes. 
  • If you have a flat foot, use orthotics. 

In addition to these healing steps, you can also work on gentle flexibility exercises. Here are a few easy stretches you can work on while you heal. Remember to wear your compression leggings while doing your exercises.

Toe stretch

Stand a little bit away from a wall with your back to it. Lean back on your heels and rest your back against the wall. Then lift your toes up and hold them for a few seconds. Repeat this 10 times.

Calf stretch

Face the wall now and stand about a foot away. Put one foot in front of the other one and then lean forward. Press your hands into the wall and keep your back calf straight. You will feel a slight pull. Hold it for a few seconds. Alternate calves.

Draw with your toes

In a seated position, you can trace letters with your toes. This helps loosen up your shins.

Seated shin stretch

Kneel down and then sit back on your heels. Hold your position while carefully pushing your heels down a bit with your bottom. Then pull yourself into a straight position and repeat three times.

 

You can check here for additional exercises to loosen up your shin bones. Before long you will be back to feeling normal again. Take your time recovering so that you don't have a relapse.

 


Source references:

https://www.healthline.com/health/shin-splints#symptoms

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shin-splints/symptoms-causes/syc-20354105

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/shin-splints#1

https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/shin-splints/

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