Stretches for Shin SplintsThe SportsMD Editors
What Are Shin Splints?
The term shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, refers to the pain that runs along the tibia, the shin bone. Shin splints usually develop after vigorous physical activity. Excessive or repetitive activity causes inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and tissue covering the bone, causing pain.
Katherine Roberts, renowned fitness and flexibility expert for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres baseball clubs, and founder of The Roberts Flex-Fit Method, describes shin splints in this succinct manner: “Over use is the main cause of shin splints, causing the muscle to move away from the shin bone.”
Some sports, by their very nature, place excessive demands on the legs. Running, tennis, and soccer are some of those sports and each enjoys wide recreational participation. Proper sport-specific technique and conditioning can minimize the pounding the legs take when playing such sports.
Stretches for Shin Splints
According to Roberts, the best cure for shin splints, (play video) once you have them, is rest. The length of recuperation depends upon the severity of the condition. Physicians may also recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, ice packs and do various stretches for shin splints.
Roberts recommends two stretches for shin splints to help prevent and aid in shin splints recovery. For the first stretching exercise, with shoes off, sit on a chair and extend one leg straight. Flex the toes and foot toward the body, then point the toes away. Repeat the shin splints stretches exercise ten times and switch legs.
For the second shin splints stretches exercise, stand on a step, facing the step. Move back so the heels will freely drop below the step. Put a micro-bend in your knees and allow the heels to drop below the step. On exhalation, lift as high as possible on the toes. Repeat ten times and rest.
It is rare for a person to need advanced treatment for shin splints, but it does occur. When shin splints do not improve with non-surgical treatments and exercise, surgery could be used. There may also be other problems present, such as stress fracture, which would need to be diagnosed. It is important to visit a physician for accurate diagnosis of the conditions.
What puts me at risk for shin splints as an athlete?
Athletes that perform repetitive, vigorous physical activities are unfortunately at higher risk for developing shin splints. Track and field athletes, particularly sprinters and jumpers, are at high-risk. Vigorous dancers and military cadets (who are often training with running or marching drills) are vulnerable as well.
Flat feet (“pes planus”) or very rigid arches of the foot may also increase the risk of shin splints in athletes. While the precise reason is not known, it is thought that both of these foot conditions increase the stress and transmission of loads to the muscles and bones of the lower leg.
What other problems could be a cause for shin pain in athletes?
Shin splints are a diagnosis of exclusion in athletes, and other conditions must be considered and ruled out to assure the right treatment program is initiated. Some other common problems in athletes that must be evaluated include:
• Stress Fracture – Repetitive, vigorous physical activity can sometimes place abnormally high stresses on the bones of the lower extremity. Under these circumstances, “microscopic” fractures of the bone can develop.
• Tendon Strain or Muscle Injury – Pain the lower extremity may be secondary to strain or tearing of tendons and muscles. After vigorous exercise, pain in the lower leg can also result from “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS).
• Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome – In endurance athletes, particularly runners, the muscles of the lower leg can swell with repetitive activities. Sometimes the muscle swelling can exceed the space available for them provided by the surrounding, relatively inelastic envelope (“fascia”). The muscle swelling with increased pressures that limit blood flow can cause significant pain in the lower extremity.
What can I do as an athlete to prevent developing shin splints?
While certain individuals may be predisposed to shin splints regardless of what they do, certain things can be done to help minimize your chance of developing them. These include:
• Shin splints stretches includes both passive stretching that is performed by pulling the foot upward (“dorsi-flexion”), as well as dynamic stretching by actively contracting the muscles to keep it pulled upward, by walking on your heels for example.
• Alterations in running style. Heel-striking offers the best shock absorption and natural form when running long distances, and reduces the force transmission to the calf and shin muscles. Running on the toes is efficient for sprinting but hard for long-distance runners.
• Choose appropriate footwear. For runners with a heavy heelstrike, make sure that that your shoes have appropriate padding of the heel. “Motion control” shoes with heel padding may be better than “neutral” shoes for the heavy heelstrike runner.
• Get orthotics if necessary. Patients with flatfeet (“excessive pronation”) may benefit from arch supports and/or “motion control” shoes with extra support underneath the arch.
• Avoid rough or hard terrain. Runners that are sensitive to shin splints may benefit from running on softer surfaces that allow for greater shock absorption and prevent the movement of bones. In this regard, running on a track surface may be better than pavement to prevent this injury.
Can Telemedicine Help?
Telemedicine is gaining popularity because it can help bring you and the doctor together quicker and more efficiently. It is particularly well suited for sports injuries such as shin splints and facilitating the diagnoses and severity of the injury and treatment plan. Learn more via SportsMD’s 24/7 Telemedicine Service.
Interview with Katherine Roberts, September 3, 2009; “Shin Splints,” OrthoInfo.com, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
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