With Spring right around the corner, many individuals will “pick up the pace” and resume running. However, with just starting to train or even adding distance to your running program, you run the risk of developing shin splints, also called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) where pain develops on the inside of the shin. Being a very common athletic injury, shin splints affect both the muscle on the inside of the shin and the bone to which it attaches. It is estimated that up to 35% of athletes who run and jump will develop shin splints, such as distance runners, sprinters, basketball players, tennis players, dancers, and gymnasts. It is also very common among our military personnel as well. A Physical Therapist should be your first choice in getting help to recover from shin splints as they can instruct you in the proper exercises and tactics to prevent reinjury.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE SHIN SPLINTS?
Shin splints occur when too much stress is placed on the tibia (main shin bone).This occurs when the muscles that attach to the tibia cause an overload of stress on the bone. These muscles include the posterior tibialis, soleus, and flexor digitorum longus. Pain is generally felt in the middle or lower third of the inside of the shin. The pain may be sharp when you touch the sore area or occur as an ache during or after exercise. When shin splints are developing the pain may be present during the beginning of exercise and less noticeable over time as the exercise progresses. Over time the condition can worsen and pain can be felt throughout the course of any regimen, as well as possibly continuing after exercise. Here are the most common risk factors associated with shin splints:
- Being an athlete who participates in repetitive jumping and/or running
- Flattening of the arch of the foot while standing
- Being female
- Excessive mobility in the hips
- Smaller calf girth (in males)
- Having a high body mass index (>20.2)
HOW CAN PHYSICAL THERAPY HELP SOMEONE SUFFERING FROM SHIN SPLINTS?
Your Physical Therapist should conduct a thorough evaluation, including a medical history, to determine what risk factors caused your shin splints. An individualized treatment plan can then be developed that is specific to you and what your body needs to recover and to prevent reinjury. To relieve pain, your Physical Therapist may prescribe:
- A period of rest from the aggravating exercise or activity
- Applying ice to the painful area for 10-15 minutes, every other hour
- Gentle stretching exercises for the muscles around the shin
- Taping the arch of the foot or the affected leg muscles
- Manual Therapy (Hands-On Therapy) such as massage or myofascial release
To help strengthen weak muscles your Physical Therapist may prescribe:
- Exercises that increase your arch and shin muscle strength to decrease flattening out (overpronation) of the arch of the foot
- Exercises that improve hip rotation, abduction (lifting the leg away from the other leg), and extension (lifting the leg behind your body) to decrease stress to the lower leg
Other things that might be prescribed by your Physical Therapist may include:
- Calf and foot muscle stretches
- Modified leg and foot control during walking and running
- Modified take-off and landing techniques for jumping athletes
- Single leg exercises, including squats, heel raises, or reaching exercises
- New footwear to provide better support when walking or exercising
- Orthotics or shoe inserts that support the arch of the foot (if you have flat feet or your foot muscles are weak)
CAN SHIN SPLINTS BE PREVENTED?
In order to prevent shin splints many Physical Therapists recommend:
- Getting an annual Physical Therapy functional fitness evaluation, including strength, flexibility, mobility, and sport-specific analyses
- Perform dynamic stretches before exercising and static stretches after exercise
- Perform strengthening and endurance exercises for the pelvic, hip, knee, ankle, and foot muscles
- Perform balance and coordination exercises on each leg
- Follow a recommended training program when initiating or progressing your exercise program
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs and symptoms of shin splints don’t wait to take action. Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanpt.com to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t wait–schedule now!