Shin splints – what are they and how can I get rid of them?
If you’re a runner, or exercise regularly, you likely know how shin splints feel, but you may not know why they occur, or more importantly, what you can do to get rid of them. In this blog we talk about what shin splints are and what can be done to treat them so you can keep exercising pain free.
What are shin splints?
When you increase your training work load too quickly, or run a lot on hard surfaces, or just don’t give yourself enough time to recover between workouts you can damage the muscle that attaches to your shin and experience anything from a mild discomfort to serious pain that impacts on your ability to walk – damaging this muscle is known as shin splints.
What causes shin splints?
As we mentioned, over-training or running on hard surfaces could trigger shin splints, but the same type of exercise may not cause shin splints in someone else, how come?
Well, when understanding shin splints, you need to not only take into account the external factors such as training frequency, or footwear, but also the person’s biomechanical movements.
There are many different biomechanical movements involved in running or exercising that may not be properly balanced and be contributing to your shin splints (e.g. you have poor core stability or decreased flexibility in one or both of your ankles). This is why it is important to see a trained health professional when dealing with shin splints – unless you accurately diagnose all the factors contributing to your shin splints, there is a very good chance they will come back if you just rest until the pain goes away (which is what most people do, and not surprisingly, is why most people struggle to get rid of shin splints).
How do I know if I have shin splints?
It’s pretty straightforward, if you exercise regularly and find you have a dull ache starting to flare up down the front of your shins, or up the back of your lower leg starting from your ankle and moving up to your calf, you may have shin splints. These areas can also be painful to touch or when applying moderate pressure and you should take action to resolve your situation before it gets worse and impacts your daily movement such as walking or getting out of bed.
What treatment is available for shin splints?
The important thing to keep front of your mind when resolving your shin splints is to accurately diagnose the root cause and then put an effective treatment plan in place that ensures they don’t come back – this is not as easy or obvious as it sounds.
First off however, it is important to rest and ice your shin splints. This initial treatment phase is crucial as it stops your shin splints from getting worse and gives your body the much needed opportunity to heal. The tried and true soft tissue treatment of rest, ice and protection is how you should first start your shin splint treatment, but this alone won’t stop your shin splints coming back.
It is important during this healing process that you stretch, lengthen and mobilise the muscles running down your shin that were injured. This will help strengthen them and better position you to safely face the next challenging workout without injury. Your Podiatrist can advise you of the types of exercises, and their frequency, to optimally strengthen the specific shin muscles that you have injured.
A side note for the muscle strengthening phase is that your Podiatrist will need to also consider your biomechanical movement – some shin splints are caused by poor biomechanical movement and may require the assistance of orthotics or a specific exercise plan that corrects your biomechanical imbalances.
Finally, you need to get back in the game… but rushing back too soon, even after you have rested, iced and strengthened your shin muscles, can still lead to injury if you don’t treat this final stage of rehabilitation with caution and respect for your body. You should discuss with your Podiatrist what training goals you have, and your timelines to reach them, so the two of you can work together to develop a “return to fitness” plan that meets your needs without risking further injury.
Left untreated, shin splints can become a serious issue that not only stops you from training, but can also cause you serious pain when walking. Don’t risk it, if you think you have shin splints, you should do something about it before it gets worse and ends up taking you longer to repair and rehabilitate.