What Are Shin Splints And How Can You Manage Them Properly?

Shin Splints refer to pain that occurs along the inner section of the shin bone in the body. The leading cause of the shin splints is a continuous injury to the connective muscle that exists around the shin bone. These types of injury are commonly experienced by professional athletes who engage in various kinds of physical activity. More so, the main sign of the injury is usually pain that occurs in the lower sections of the leg such as the ankles and the knees. The shin splints are also injuries that affect close to 14% of the world’s population.

Signs and Diagnosis

The shin splints refer to a recurring injury that occurs on the inner section and lower sections of the shin bone in the body. The common factor causing such injuries is overpronation, which can even affect one`s natural gait. The pronation occurs when the medial arch moves downward to improve the stability of the foot with the ground. As such, the ankle rolls inwards, thereby compromising the contact of the arch with the ground. Any abnormal movement might increase muscle fatigue, and affect the ability of the muscles to absorb shock from the ground.

A doctor may ask about the symptoms experienced and your medical history. This will be followed by a physical exam on the leg to determine the occurrence of any issues. An accurate diagnosis is vital because shin splints share similar characteristics to other foot deformities. Moreover, the doctor might recommend additional tests to rule out any other shin complications. Various issues can cause shin pain. Some of them include tendinitis, stress fractures, and more. If the shin splints are not responsive to management, the doctor might recommend additional tests. These might consist of the use of techniques such as MRI studies on the affected area. Tendinitis is also a similar foot deformity because it also involves a small tear in the muscles of the foot.

Causes

Even though the leading cause of shin splints is not well known, the injury is often attributed to one specific factor. This is an overload that occurs on the lower leg to issues in the biomechanics of the foot. The compromised biomechanics can increase the level of stress on the tibia. Any sudden increase in the frequency or intensity in activity causes the muscle to experience fatigue. The fatigue then affects the ability of the foot to absorb any shock properly, thereby leading to injury.

Moreover, issues such as weak muscles, plantar muscles and soleus can also increase one`s likelihood of getting shin splints. With repetitive shock, the excessive forces can fatigue the soleus and lead to repeated bowing. The impact might even worsen when the individual engages in physical activity such as jogging or heavy lifting of items during, say, construction activities. Other common causes of shin splints might include:

  • Tibial stress fracture – a tibial stress fracture is similar to shin splints. The tibial stress fractures will occur when you place excessive stress on the shin bone structure, without sufficient time for recovery.
  • Sciatica – this is a painful condition that arises from the lower back and often involves an irritation on the sciatic nerve. More so, the sciatic nerve is a major nerve that communicates with various sections of the leg.
  • Compartment syndrome – this is a syndrome that occurs in the lower leg, and it occurs when the blood fill in the muscles that it can escape. The condition causes the muscles to feel tingly and tight, thereby leading to issues such as pain.

Top Exercises for Shin Splints

Engaging in physical activity can seem counterintuitive when it comes to addressing issues such as foot pain and health complications. However, for shin splints, there are several forms of physical activity that are suitable for releasing any associated symptoms. They include:

Seated Ankle Dorsiflexion and Calf Stretch

This first exercise involves sitting on the floor with the knees flat. Place a rope or towel around the flat of the foot, and pull back gently. Move towards the shin, thereby engaging the full range of motion and maintain the position for a few seconds. Then, move the feet down towards the ground. Ensure that you maintain the legs flat on the floor, and the motion should only occur at the ankle. Start the procedure with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase the frequency gradually. Once you master the stretch, strengthen the feet by using a resistance band. Engage in the same motion, and use a loop resistance band around the foot, and the other end around a table.

Bent Knee Ankle Dorsiflexion and Calf Stretch

For this particular exercise, you will have to sit on a bench or table and ensure your knees are in a bent position and with your feet hanging. Next, bend the foot up in the direction of the shin, and maintain this position for a few seconds. You will then have to lower the foot by pointing the toes back to the floor. You can do this particular these exercises in sets, and increase the level of reps. Once you master the stretch, move to perform a strengthening physical activity. Maintain the same position as initially, and ensure you place a weight on your foot. Then, lower the foot, and ensure the motion only occurs at the ankle joint.

Toe Walking To Improve Flexibility and Strength

This physical activity will start by standing in one position and rising to the toes by using the heels. Maintain the position for a few seconds, the lower the heels slowly to the floor. You can start the process with a few exercises, and increase the level of reps a few times each day. Once you improve your ability to stand in one position, start moving around on toes. You can start moving with your toes facing straight ahead, and move for about 20 yards. The next step is to point the toe inwards and try to move 2o yards. Finish the procedure by positioning the toes outward and walking for the same distance.

Heel Walking for Flexibility and Strength

The heel walking process starts by standing in one position and lifting the front section of the foot from the floor while maintaining the heels on the floor. Ensure that you maintain the position for a few seconds, before lowering the front section of the foot towards the ground. You can start this exercise with a few reps and increase gradually. Once you become perfect in maintaining your position in one location, you can start the heel walking process. The process starts with the toes pointed forward, and then walk for a few yards.

Wall Shin Exercises

Start this exercise by placing your back against the wall. Then, position the heels about a foot away from the wall, as the body simultaneously rests on the wall. Next, perform the dorsiflex, whereby both heels remain in contact with the floor. Stretch the toes far up and the place the feet back on the ground. Ensure that you maintain the contact of both toes with the floor. Repeat this exercise for a few sets.

Heel Step Downs

The heel step downs are perfect for working the muscles in the foot. Start the exercise by standing straight and placing the feet 30 cm part. Make a step forward with one foot. Ensure that the length of the foot is similar to a walking step. When the heel makes contact with the ground, ensure that you avoid any plantar flexing. Use the shin muscles to maintain the sole of the foot with contact to the ground. Ensure that that the toes don’t descend excessively. Step back and repeat this exercise a few times.

Calf Stretches

Being able to stretch the calves can play a significant role in relieving the pain associated with shin splints. You may need to put in lots of effort into this exercise. Start by sitting on the floor flat with your legs stretched out. Tie an exercise band or rope around the bottom of the foot, and pull back until you achieve dorsiflexion. Maintain this position for 20 seconds, and repeat for a few times.

Shin Resistance Exercise

This exercise helps to improve the strength of the lower leg and reduce the occurrence of shin splints. Sit on the floor and tie an exercise band around the feet. Tie the other end of the band around a stationary item such as a pole. Engage the foot in a dorsiflex, against the resistance of the rope. Perform this exercise a few times as you increase the strength by using thicker bands.

Other Treatment Options

There are several suitable treatment methods for shin splints. Cross training activities and more are recommended to maintain body fitness. Individuals can also return to normal activity, particularly by beginning with low intensity trainings. They can then increase their work level gradually as the weeks increase. However, it’s important to decrease the level of activity once the pain increases. Furthermore, the individuals might consider avoiding contact with hard surfaces, especially during intense physical activity. Orthoses and insoles are crucial in eliminating biomechanical complications such as pronation. Furthermore, other useful solutions for addressing shin splints include:

Non-Surgical Treatment

  • Rest – the individual has to take sufficient time to rest the body and ensure the affected are responds well to treatment
  • Ice – using ice helps to reduce any inflammation and swelling that may arise due to the shin splints
  • Compression – being able to compress or place a soft cloth around the affected area can help to ease the pain.
  • Elevation – you may also have to consider placing the affected area on a raised surface such as a pillow

Aside from implementing a top-notch physical activity regimen, there are various other useful treatment methods for shin splints. Some of these critical methods include:

  • Supportive shoes – putting on good shoes with sufficient cushioning particularly during daily activities helps to reduce stress on the shins
  • Orthotics – using orthotics helps to provide added comfort to the affected area. People who have flat feet or chronic issues with shin splints will benefit from using orthotics. Furthermore, the inserts can also help stabilize and align the foot, as well as improving balance.
  • Medications – various types of medication are useful for managing health complication. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen helps to reduce pain and to control swelling issues. More so, a corticosteroid injection can also be beneficial for pain management.
  • Vitamin D supplementation – recent medical studies have shown a strong co-relation between shin splints and the lack of Vitamin D in the body.
  • Corticosteroid injections – these are injections that are administered to help manage issues such as excessive pain and inflammation.

Surgical Options

Surgery is only required in rare cases to address the issues associated with shin splints. However, shin splits that are accompanied by compartment syndrome will require invasive treatment. Discovering the compartment syndrome early enough is vital in the treatment process. Usually, it involves procedures that help to remove excess pressure on the fascia. For instance, the surgeon might make a few incisions on either section of the leg. The incisions help to relive the tissue pressure within a few days.  Other useful surgical procedures include:

  • Fasciotomy – introducing strategic cuts to the fascia tissue that is found on the calf of the muscles helps to relieve shin pain. This process occurs on the deep posterior compartment, and it can be helpful, particularly when the individual’s body leads to shin pain.
  • Periosteal stripping – this process involves the removal of a thin collection of tissue around the shin bone. It’s a surgical process that helps relieve shin pain that is accompanied by inflammation.

Conclusion

Shin splints occur when the muscle around the shin bone is exposed to excessive tension and pressure. Most shin splints usually resolve themselves with the right treatment and management techniques. The standard management techniques include orthotics, wearing proper shoes, using NSAIDs, and more. Surgery only applies when the condition is accompanied by compartment syndrome, or if the symptoms don’t subside within a few months.

Sarah Shawman

is the webmistress of Footwear 4 Workers.

She started this website out of displeasure with the fact that there are so few good online resources especially dedicated to the 99%: working people. Having suffered from work related plantar fasciitis herself, she set out on a mission to help others.

She updated this page on and will continue to update it as time goes on.

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