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Shin Splints – Don’t Lose The “Spring” In Spring Training

March 7, 2011

We’re into March now and the days are getting warmer and longer.  Spring is just around the corner and with it comes that urge to wake up from winter’s hibernation and become more active.  Although it’s normal to have some mild aches and pains upon starting or returning to an activity such as walking or running, sometimes when you push things too far, it can feel like you want a new pair of legs.  I often see patients coming in with overuse injuries at the onset of a new routine as enthusiasm takes over and they do too much, too soon. Shin splints are a frequent culprit.

Shin splints (aka medial tibial stress syndrome) cause pain at the front inside portion of the leg near the shin bone. There may be tenderness with pressure along the lower leg or discomfort when pointing the toes downward or pulling them up. Shin splints may be aggravated by a sudden increase of distance running or intensity of activity. Factors that can predispose some people to develop shin splints include: tight lower leg muscles, weak ankles, over-pronation of feet, or poor footwear.

The exact mechanism of what causes shin splints still isn’t well understood.  The most current theories attribute it to over-use of the tendons and muscles that help in providing shock absorption to the foot and ankle – primarily the tibialis anterior, extensor hallucis  longus and extensor digitorum.  If these muscles are weak or subject to excessive strain from increased activity they can become overworked and sore.  Poor footwear can further compound the injury by increasing demand for shock absorption.

Regardless of the cause, there are steps you can take to help shin splints resolve:

  • The most important aspect of treatment is to rest from the aggravating activity.  For some of you this might be a welcome reprieve.  For others it may feel like  punishment not being able to get in your regular exercise.  In either case, switching to a new or different activity which puts less stress on the shins may be an option.  But remember that not allowing your body the rest it needs to heal will only set you up for future aggravation.
  • Apply ice or a cold compress to the areas of pain for no more than ten minutes at a time.  This will help to control the inflammation and pain.
  • Stretch out the front of the shins to limber the muscles.  This can be accomplished by sitting on your knees with your feet tucked underneath.
  • Once the pain has subsided follow a plan to gradually return to activity.  If the pain comes back it means that your body is not yet ready for that exercise.  It may also mean that there could be more going on…

A stress fracture of the shin bone (tibia) may also mimic shin splints.  The pain of a stress fracture, however, is often much more localized to a specific area of point tenderness as opposed to the more diffuse pain of shin splints.  Stress fractures are also difficult to identify on x-ray until healing has been well under way – so once again, I stress the importance of rest.

Poor biomechanics of not just the foot and ankle but the knee, hip, or low back may also contribute to the pain.  So if rest alone isn’t resolving things see your chiropractor for a thorough evaluation of the problem.  We can help to identify and correct any underlying biomechanical abnormalities to decrease the pain and improve function. In-clinic treatment focuses on decreasing muscle and joint tightness and may include a combination of soft tissue therapy, adjustments, passive stretching, microcurrent or orthotics prescription.

If you would like more information on treatment options for shin splints or any other aches and pains contact your Guelph chiropractors at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo Credit:  virtual_communities_ltd

From → Sports Injuries

  1. Great timing for your post. Spring is approaching and we all want to get out and exercise after a long winter. Shin splint are tough but your advice is very good. Rest, ice and check with your chiropractor for any underlying structural problems.

    • Thanks for stopping by Eric. It may be some wishful thinking on my part about spring…we just received 10-15 cm of snow over the weekend. But still, the longer days are encouraging to get out and be active.

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