If you maintain an active lifestyle, you may be familiar with shin-splints and how they can quickly sideline your exercise routine. However, shin splints are treatable and entirely preventable with a few extra precautions! Understanding the causes of shin splints and how to prevent them will help you avoid time lost for recovery and allow you to make the most of your active time outdoors this spring.
What Are Shin Splints
"Shin Splints" is an all-encompassing term that refers to any pain in the shin area, specifically around the tibia bone, at the front of the leg beneath the knee. The medical term referring to shin splints is “tibial stress syndrome.”
Those with active lifestyles, such as dancers or runners, are more likely to experience shin splints due to the repetitive stress put on their shins. As a result, the muscles around the tibia become injured if stressed beyond capacity. Because shin splints is a catch-all term, there can be a variety of injuries that fall into that category. The specific injuries can include:
- Small muscle tears around the tibia.
- Inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the shinbone.
- Inflammation in the muscle.
Shin splints often describe injuries that present as generalized pain in the shin area, not injuries with localized pain in a specific spot. These injuries can include stress fractures or cracks in the tibia bone or compartment syndrome, a condition of swelling in the muscle which causes pain in a closed space. Pain associated with shin splints may ebb and flow depending on the time of day and may become most painful when lifting the foot and applying upward movement through the ankle.
How To Treat Shin Splints
Treating shin splints is relatively simple. Most importantly, you will need to rest. If repetitive high-impact activities are what caused your shin splints, taking a break from those exercises allows your shins time to heal. Recovery may take 2-3 months, so if low-impact exercises like swimming or biking do not cause you shin pain, you can still engage in those activities and avoid having to take an extended break from all physical activity.
In the first few days of your injury, it can also be helpful to apply an ice pack to the area up to eight times a day for 15-20 minutes at a time. Icing your injury can help relieve the discomfort that comes with inflammation. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can also be helpful.
How To Prevent Shin Splints
Implementing a few simple habits can help you avoid developing shin splints and the lengthy recovery time that comes along with them. One of the most critical ways to prevent shin splints is to wear high-quality shoes that fit correctly, considering your foot size, shape, and gait. Proper athletic shoes can help dampen the impact exercise has on your shins and other body parts. Depending on your specific podiatric needs, you may also consider custom orthotics that can help you exercise without creating additional injury to your feet or ankles.
If you are prone to shin splints, don’t make any abrupt changes to your exercise routine. Instead, gradually work up the intensity of your workouts. Slow adjustments allow your body to acclimate and avoid overstressing the muscle and tissue surrounding your tibias. You may also want to change your exercise locale to a place with softer surfaces as hard, and uneven surfaces can be strenuous on your body.
Stretching before and after you work is another excellent way to help avoid injury. Implementing one or all of our shin splint prevention exercises can help you warm-up, cool down, and avoid overstressing your shins:
- Heel raises. Stand with your feet slightly apart, then slowly raise your heels off the floor without bending your knees. Hold for about 10 seconds, then slowly lower yourself to the starting position. If you need support, touch a wall or grab the back of a sturdy chair.
- Heel drops. Stand on the edge of a step on the balls of your feet, your heels hanging over the edge. Slowly lower them until you feel a good stretch in your calves. Hold about 10 seconds, then slowly return.
- Standing calf stretch. Facing a wall, step forward with one leg, leaving the back foot flat on the floor and the back knee straight. Again, you should feel the stretch in your calf. Hold, then switch legs.
- Toe curls. From a seated position, place a medium-sized towel on the floor in front of you. Grasp the towel with your toes, gently pull it toward you, and then push it back.
If you are suffering from shin pain, consider speaking with a specialist to avoid further injury. Give us a call at (717) 757-3537 to schedule an appointment, and we can help you get back on your feet and back to your exercise routine!