What’s worse than intense leg pain? For many athletes including dancers, runners, tennis, and soccer players, shin splints are a hated culprit to hindering their performance. Any person who has experienced its symptoms can tell you it’s incredibly frustrating and can last for several weeks if not treated. It’s in your best interest to learn how to prevent the disorder and watch out for your body if you do fall victim to its effects.
The Root Cause
Shin splints are described as medial tibial stress syndrome, or pain occurring below the knee on the outside or inside of the leg. This pain stems from inflammation of the periosteum, which is a thin bit of tissue that wraps around the shin bone. A person can tell if they have splints if they press their fingertips along their shin and can find a definite spot of sharp pain. Another way to diagnose the problem is if lifting the foot up at the ankle or flexing the foot causes pain as well.
There’s a variety of factors that can lead to shin splints. Most often, they’re from stress to the shin area by not building up mileage correctly or abruptly changing a workout regimen. For example, running on hills intensely or adding extreme sprinting repetitions to an exercise session can add to developing the pain. Other sources can range from not stretching enough before or after working out, wearing worn out shoes, or placing too much force on a dominant leg.
If you feel a shin splint coming on, it’s best to decrease your training and running while icing your shin to treat the inflammation. Experts also recommend doing a series of stretches of your calves and Achilles with a band. For example, while kneeling on a floor, place your legs and feet together and point your toes back. Then, push your ankles into the floor until you feel tension in your shin and hold for ten to fifteen seconds. Another great stretch is to walk on your heels for thirty seconds and alternate with thirty seconds of regular walking for four times daily. Each exercise can aid your recovery and prevent future splints from coming on.
Besides strengthening exercises, if you choose to continue running, be sure to tape your leg before going out with a bandage. This helps to bind your tendons up against the shin to prevent further stress. Until your pain subsides, aim to continue wrapping your leg for three to six weeks in total. For more help, seek out a local physical therapist who can assist you as well. They can assess your situation and form a customized regime of exercises and topical aids that can help you get on the road to recovery.
To prevent future splints from happening, it’s important to train in shoes that provide enough stability and flexibility. Wearing shoes that are too old makes your feet and legs do extra work to support your weight. Meanwhile, make sure to practice cross training and focus on gradual physical progress. A popular mistake among athletes is that they forget to give their body a break, alternate between high intensity workouts, or slowly add on difficulty to their training. Stretching beyond your limit is important to get better, but crossing the line of discomfort is never worth it!