Shin Splints: Symptoms, Causes, and Remedies

students guide to life: shin splint symptoms causes and remedies

Shin splints (technically called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), but who has time for dat). If you’ve got them, there is no doubt they are causing you come grief. Shin splints are most often experienced by athletes or people who exercise regularly during running

About 2 weeks ago I had the pleasure of stepping off the treadmill and walking through a world of pain. I had not had shin splints in years, and almost forgot that they even existed.

Here is a summary of symptoms, causes, and remedies I found during my personal experience to reduce the amount of complaining my family had to endure.

Symptoms

  1. Pain,
  2. Pain, and
  3. Pain from the lower tibia to the middle of the leg (depending on where the stress is originating from).

Causes

You can thank repetitive stress on the shinbone and connective tissue for your pain. This is a result of sudden increase in frequency and stress on the lower leg from physical activity.

BUT

Did you know this stress can be a result of poorly conditioned gluteal musculature?

Walking allows for your weight to be evenly distributed across both legs; there is usually two points of contact on the ground. With running, weight is transferred between each leg without the opportunity for an even distribution of weight. As a result, running is considered a ‘one-legged sport’.

The gluteal muscles assist in stabilising the pelvis when on one leg. As you can imagine, dysfunction that involves these muscles will impact upon the entire leg.

Factors contributing to this imbalance include

  • Foot issues
    • Over-pronation: Your foot rolling inwards too much, causing your foot’s arch to flatten and your lower leg to rotate inwards.
    • Over-supination: Your foot rolling outwards too much
  • Shoe issues
    • Wrong type of shoe: Running will require well fitted running shoes. Over-pronators will require a firmer midsole. Over-supinator’s will need a neutral shoe with lots of cushioning.
    • Too tight laces
    • Too tight shoes
    • Old shoes: The older a shoe is, the less support and cushioning they will have increasing risk of injury.
  • Overtraining
    • Over using, with increasing running mileage too quickly usually the main culprit, can cause injury.
    • Excessive training on hard surfaces or running on your toes (e.g. sprinting) are also common in this category.
  • Weak foot and/or lower leg muscles
    • Poor flexibility: This causes greater stress on soft tissue, muscles, and tendons in the lower leg. It is important to stretch out those calf muscles (this also helps the risk of plantar fasciitis).
    • As mentioned earlier, poor pelvis stability leads to the lower leg muscles needing to work harder.

Remedies

  • Rest
    • Whatever the cause, you should stop your activity immediately.
    • Avoid running, jumping or any other activity exacerbating the symptoms. You can swim or cycle though if you are craving some cardio. If you need to be on your feet, try taping the area or wearing compression solutions.
  • Ice
    • This should be done during the initial stages of the injury. You can ice the painful area for around 10 minutes every hour, eventually reducing to 3-4 times as symptoms improve.
  • Exercises
    • To stabilise your gluteal muscles: Try isometric contractions of the glutes: Squeeze your butt muscles in various positions at different points throughout the day. Hold it for 5-10 seconds for a set of 10.
    • Calf stretches: This will aid the tibialis posterior muscle. You can try calf raises and toe raises to get the muscles of the lower leg working again. Calf stretches should be done both with knees straight and bent.
    • If your shin splints are caused by a tight Achilles tendon, ensure you are stretching this tendon appropriately to reduce future injury.
  • Technique
    • Improve/correct your running technique so you are not causing undue stress on any area of the body
  • Shoes
    • Loosen your laces, have your new shoes fitted correctly, and ensure you have the support you are needing.

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