DEALING WITH SHIN SPLINTS
You’ve probably heard of “shin splints” at some point in your life. You’ve likely even suffered from them. I’ve been an athlete since the age of 6, so it is something that I’ve worked through numerous times. I’d like to provide some information about this common condition that, like back pain, will affect a very large part of the population at some point in their lives.
“Shin splints” is a catch-all phrase given to the pain that we sometimes feel in the lower leg. Usually, this involves soreness and/ or sharp pain at the front inside of the shin bone. While the term is quite common, it is not actually an injury or a diagnosis. It is the name given to the painful condition that includes stress of the tibia (shin bone) and inflammation of the muscles and tendons in the region. The actual clinical term for shin splints is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome. A syndrome is a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms. For this reason, shin splints are diagnosed by a physician or physiotherapist performing an examination and an interview and may or may not include having an X-ray done.
As opposed to a traumatic injury, shin splints come from overuse and develop over time for a number of reasons. Here are the top 5.
1. One of the most common causes of shin splints can be summed up by the words “too much, too soon.” When an athlete or everyday exerciser increases their training volume before they are physically ready for the increase, injury risk rises rapidly. A good way to avoid this is to consider the different variables involved in physical training (frequency, duration and intensity) and only increase one at a time.
2. Worn out shoes. Running in shoes that lack support or stability means that all of the forces from your foot striking the ground reverberate through your feet and into your muscles, bones and tendons in the legs and hips. A good pair of new shoes will dissipate these forces and can help keep an injury from becoming a chronic condition.
3. Running or walking on hard surfaces. If the surface that you are running or walking on is hard (like concrete), the ground does not absorb any of the shock of your foot striking; vibrations travel up through your feet and legs, increasing the likelihood of an overuse injury. Look for soft trails and or tracks made specifically for running and walking.
4. Tight muscles. While shin splints most often present themselves at the front of the lower leg, the muscles at the back of the legs (in the calves) are very important in preventing them. First and foremost there must be balance between the calves and the muscles around the shin (called anterior tibialis). If you walk or run consistently, take some time to stretch your calves following each session and consider adding toe raises to your exercise repertoire for strength and muscle endurance.
5. Weak muscles. Most often, upon examination, it is found that the anterior tibialis muscles at the front of the lower leg are considerably weaker than the muscles at the back. This creates an imbalance and an uneven distribution of the workload required to run or walk. The load then is “off-loaded” to the tendons, which are not equipped to handle them and often results in the inflammation and hairline stress fractures associated with shin splints.
Remember that you don’t have to be an athlete to suffer from a “sports” injury like tennis elbow, runner’s knee or even shin splints. The body doesn’t know if you are practising for a sport or whether you are walking too much in worn out shoes on hard surfaces at your job.
Be aware of the things that cause your muscles to become imbalanced leading to stress and inflammation, and do your best to avoid putting yourself in that situation. In the case of shin splints, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.
Medical Exercise Specialist Ernie Schramayr, CPT, helps his clients manage medical conditions with exercise. You can follow him at erniesfitnessworld.com. 905-741-7532 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Running on trails, which are much softer than concrete, will help absorb the vibrations from your foot strike.