Whether you’re trying to perform your favorite exercise in the gym or playing a game of tennis down the local park, there are few things more painful and frustrating than the feeling of “shin splints” along the front of your shinbone and leg.
The condition is a common overuse injury and usually occurs from physical activity such as running or similar high-impact exercise for prolonged periods of time.
More often than not, shin splints heal on their own with sufficient rest and treatment (i.e. plenty of stretching and the application of ice a couple of times a day). However, there are occasions where ignoring the symptoms and continuing with your normal physical activity can lead to more serious injury.
This guide will take an in-depth look at the problem of shin splints, including all the information you need to know about what causes them, how to avoid the issue in the first place, and the best methods to ease the problem and stop shin splints from returning.
Causes of the condition
Shin splints typically occur from repetitive activity when the muscles and bone tissue of the legs are overworked beyond capacity. One of the most common examples is running too quickly too soon, placing your body under stress and not allowing it to gradually adjust to the training.
The condition can also be caused by a sudden change in intensity or duration of physical activity. What’s more, switching the type of surface you’re performing your activity on can similarly lead to shin splints. Take for example a tennis player changing from a soft and cushioned grass court to an unforgiving hard court.
Listed below are some of the common situations where people are most at risk of developing shin splints.
- You typically run or exercise on uneven terrain, hills, or concrete
- You’ve recently upped the frequency or intensity of your training
- You have high arches and have flat feet
- You’re in military training
Treatment of the condition
As is the case with treating a number of other injuries at home, the rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) method is effective at ensuring shin splints go away as soon as possible.
If you’re a runner who’s suffering from shin splints, you can still continue to run, just make sure that you’re decreasing the frequency and intensity of your workouts to reduce the toll on your body.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to avoid uneven and hard surfaces like concrete and steep hills. This is why many people turn to low-impact exercises such as swimming until the worst of the pain subsides.
In addition to the RICE approach, stretching out the calf and surrounding leg muscles can help to relieve much of the pain. Listed below are three of the best stretches to try.
Gastrocnemius muscle stretch – this first exercise is excellent for stretching the calf muscle. Simply stand facing towards a sturdy wall and position both hands against it. Step the foot that you’re stretching back half a meter and keep your leg straight. Then, bend your front knee while keeping both feet flat on the ground. If you really want to feel the stretch in your calf, lean your torso slightly forward. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and relax.
Calf raises – this next exercise is a useful one for strengthening the calf muscles, which should in turn, relieve some of the pain. All you need to do is position the balls of your feet on a step with the back half of them floating off the edge. Gradually raise yourself up on your toes before dropping back down again. Try to stretch your calf and foot muscle as much as you can as your heels lower and hold the position for up to 20 seconds for maximum effect.
Seated shin stretch – the seated shin stretch eases pain in the shin area by targeting the muscles at the back of the lower leg. To do the exercise, start in a kneeling position and then lower yourself slowly down so you’re seated with your heels positioned under your glutes. Once you’re in this position, lean back slightly and place your hands behind your back on the floor. Using your body weight, push down on your heels to experience the stretch – while if you want to increase the pressure, try lifting your knees off the ground a little.
There are numerous things you can do to prevent or significantly reduce the risk of shin splints. Below we’ve listed some of the most important and effective preventative measures to keep in mind.
- Slowly build up your levels of fitness. In other words, don’t go from nothing to running 10 miles straight away. Increasing the intensity and frequency of your workouts gradually can help to build strength and loosen up your muscles.
- Wear appropriate shoes for the sport or activity you’re doing. Taking into account the surface you’ll be exercising on is another important factor. For example, wearing grass-court tennis shoes for a long distance run on rocky terrain isn’t going to end well for your shins.
- Replace your shoes on a regular basis – especially if you’re a runner. It’s recommended to replace shoes every 300 to 450 miles of wear.
- Using shock-absorbing insoles can be useful in reducing the impact on your shins during physical activity.
If treatment hasn’t had the desired effect and you’re still suffering with shin splints and discomfort around eight weeks later, it’s likely that you returned to the aggravating activity too early. This is why it’s so important to properly rest and recover after injury to ensure your leg muscles are ready to accept the impact again.
The vast majority of shin splint injuries should be sorted out within two months, but this timescale can be far longer if you don’t allow yourself adequate recovery time.