By Amy McGorry
Hitting the pavement can hit you with some achy shins! Athletes with “shin splints” (or medial tibial stress syndrome) usually complain of pain along the front and inner portion of the shinbone. It’s an overuse injury that affects runners, basketball players or anyone involved in sports involving jumping or sudden stops like tennis.
When Shin Splints Are A Pain
“It takes a licking, but keeps on ticking.” That's your shinbone. It absorbs loads as your foot hits the ground, with muscles continuously pulling on it. Repetitive loads coupled with muscle imbalances or leg discrepancies may cause abnormal strain to this bone and surrounding tissue. The result? Shin splints!
Shin splint pain is spread over a large area with “out-of bed-in-the-morning” pain due to tightness. In contrast, stress fractures have a focal point of tenderness that hurts less in the morning. X-rays, MRI scans and other tests can confirm the condition. If your calf feels hot and swollen, be sure to see a physician.
Why You Are Sidelined
Experts say possible reasons for shin splits could be small tears in the calf muscles, inflamed muscles and tendons and irritation of the tissue that lines the shinbone. When you hit the trail, for instance, the calf muscles try to guide your foot to help it hit the ground efficiently. The same muscle that lifts your foot up also controls the foot as it lowers back down. If it’s weak, it lacks control of the “slapping down” of the foot -- which can lead to strain along the foot and calf.
Overpronation of the foot, leg-length discrepancies and muscle imbalances in the calf can also cause shin splints.
Additionally, training errors like sudden increase of mileage or intensity, lack of stretching and poor footwear can lead to this problem. Running the same path direction regularly or on hard or uneven surfaces are also triggers.
How To Stay In The Game
If you suffer from shin splints, try icing the area three times a day for 15 minutes, resting and modifying your workout. Changing your running path and sneakers are also important. An exercise program involving strengthening of the calf may also help get you back on your feet -- literally!
Try these exercises to help counter shin splints:
Eccentric Heel Raises
- While standing, lift both heels up
- Slowly lower yourself down on one leg (you can hold on to something for balance)
- 2 sets of 10 reps
Heel Cord Stretches
- Stand facing a wall with one foot about 2 feet in front of the other
- Keep back leg straight and heel down
- Bend front knee slightly
- Lean into the wall with your hands
- Don’t let toes turn out!
- Hold 30 seconds
- Now do the same, but slightly bend the back knee and keep the heel on floor
- Hold 30 seconds
Seated Calf Raises
- Sit and place a weight on your thighs
- Lift heels up while pressing down into balls of your feet
- 3 sets of 10 reps
Eccentric Ankle Plantarflexion
(Hold on to a handrail for safety)
- Stand facing down a step with just your heels on the stair, toes off it
- Keep legs straight and point your toes slowly downward
- Now lift toes upward
- Do 20 reps