Have you recently taken up dancing? Or, have you changed your training drastically just to see how much you can take? Maybe you are preparing for your next marathon?
Chances are, you’ve felt that sharp, throbbing pain on the front part of your lower leg – a telling sign of medial tibial stress syndrome, or a shin splint.
Considered to be the most common exercise-related injury, a shin splint is caused by repeated stress on the shinbone and the surrounding muscles and tissue. Newbie runners and athletes are no stranger to shin splints, but not all know how to handle them properly.
Shin splints develop over time, and, as with other physical issues, prevention is better than a cure. But if you’ve already fallen victim to shin splints, know that it’s not the end of your dancing or athletic career.
You can defeat shin splints, and here’s how:
1. Use RICE
- Rest – Shin splints are caused by repeated stress on the lower leg muscles and bone tissue. To compensate for overexertion, relax your shins occasionally. Laying off on energy-consuming activities is necessary to avoid and ease lower leg pains. Just like a machine, your body needs to take some rest. Otherwise, it will malfunction.
- Ice – When your shins feel achy, apply these ice packs to your shins for up to 20 minutes, at least twice a day. Ice or cold therapy numbs the pain and hampers the nerves from sending pain messages to the brain. Cold temperatures constrict the blood vessels, preventing the accumulation of fluids and reducing swelling.
- Compression – An elastic bandage that’s wrapped snugly on your lower legs also helps reduce the swelling. You can quickly wrap your legs withe Magic Gel Multi-Purpose Gel packs that come with adjustable velcro straps. They are highly convenient and provide adequate compression to help you heal faster.
- Elevation – Lie down and elevate your shins at level or above your heart to pump back excess fluid into the blood vessel system and to help prevent further swelling. If you are unable to lie down and elevate your leg just raise your lower leg as high as possible while sitting.
2. Adjust your activities and cross-train
- Start slow – New to running or exercising? Do not overstress your lower leg muscles or engage in intense workouts immediately. The golden rule is to gradually increase your mileage or activities by 10 percent every week. One of the fundamental causes of shin splints is a sudden, drastic change in physical exertion.
If you’ve just recovered from a shin splint, start slow. A 50 percent reduction in intensity, length and frequency of your regular activities is the best way to start.
For instance, run half the distance but mix your training with more walking. If you’re used to running, sprint for 15 minutes and walk for 45 minutes. Don’t forget to take quick breaks.
- Cross-Train – Otherwise, lay off running for a few days and engage in low-impact aerobic exercises. You may use a stationary bike or swim in the pool, as these activities apply less pressure on your shins. Cross-training is a good way to develop unique muscle groups and is shown to reduce the risk of injury.
3. Check your shoes
- Function vs. fashion – Shoe function should be your primary deciding factor. The form or fashion of the shoe is secondary. Choose a pair appropriate for your training and your feet. Look for a pair that provides motion control or stability.
Shoes with good arch support are highly recommended, as they can help prevent the foot from overpronation, where the ankle rolls too far inward or outward with each step – another trigger for shin splints.
Overpronation puts a strain on the big toe and the second toe to further destabilize the foot. To compensate, the foot has to excessively rotate and, along with it, the tibia or shinbone would need to excessively rotate as well.
- Replace shoes often – If you have been using the same shoes for years, consider shopping for a fresh pair. Worn-out sneakers contribute to shin splints, as your feet and legs exert more force to stabilize your body.
Experts recommend retiring your shoes once you have used them for about 500 km or 300 miles. If you’re not measuring, change your shoes yearly if you’re not a heavy runner. Having several pairs of athletic shoes that allow you to switch from time to time is an expensive but advantageous idea.
- Insert an orthotic – Injury, age and other health conditions can alter the structure of the foot arch over time. Flat-footed or high-arched people are equally prone to shin splints. Orthotics can help in both cases.
Flat-footed runners may replace their shoes’ insole foam with a plastic orthotic for additional arch support to address shin splints and other conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, iliotibial band and runner’s knee.
Even those with high foot arches can benefit from orthotics, allowing for more shock absorption and decreasing stress.
Use compression socks or sleeves – These garments are designed to decrease the strain put on the bones and muscles in your lower leg. It helps maintain body alignment, reduces muscle movement and ensures ample blood flow. With these functions, compression socks and sleeves can be used in preventing and easing shin splints.
4. Improve your lower leg strength
Runners with bigger and stronger calf muscles have a lower risk of developing tibial stress fractures, according to a study. These fractures occur after shin splints are left unaddressed for a lengthy period of time. Naturally, strengthening the calf and its surrounding muscles can help you avoid shin splints.
Below are some exercises that you can do:
- Calf raises – With your feet slightly apart, raise up onto your toes, and pause for two seconds. Lower back to your starting position. Repeat 30 times.
- Foot pumps – While lying down, straighten your legs and lift it in front of your body, with your toes pointed to the sky. In a pumping motion, point your toes back towards your body and then back to the original position. Do 40 repetitions.
- Heel drop – Stand on the stairs or an elevated platform and transfer your weight on your right foot while lowering your right heel in a flexed position, or as low as possible. Slowly raise back up and repeat before doing the same to the opposite side. Two sets of 10 repetitions on each side.
Toe walks – Stand on your toes and walk forward for about 14 meters. Complete two sets.
5. Train on various surfaces
Your lower leg muscles, bones and joints absorb the impact of your feet landing on the pavement. However, the concrete and inclined surfaces that you enjoy sprinting on are putting a lot of pressure on your body.
Softer surfaces like treadmills, the beach and a dirt trail are less harsh on your shins.
Training on diverse surfaces allows you to change your running style slightly and helps you avoid overstressing your shins repeatedly.
One final tip
If shin splints bug you more often than it should, consider having a physical therapist analyze and check on your running or movement. These professionals can assess whether your muscles are weak and teach you how to strengthen and improve them.
We hope you’ve become more confident in dealing with shin splints after reading this article. What additional tips can you share about treating shin splints?
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