Tired of Having Shin Splints? Here’s Some Quick Fixes
Also known as tibial stress syndrome, shin splints affect tons of people — everyone from elite athletes to the average Joe. Shin splints consist of pain in the lower leg (between the ankle and knee) on both or just one leg.
The pain is usually on the anterior (front) part of the leg and is a dull, achy pain that is felt while exercising (running, playing sports, etc). Pain can also be felt when exercise has ceased, or in more severe cases, it’s felt constantly all day.
What causes shin splints?
Well, shin splints isn’t really a single medical ailment. It’s almost always a result of a deeper underlying problem. First, I’ll cover some common causes. An important thing to remember: Your causes may not be limited to just one of the following, there are commonly multiple causes for shin splints.
1. Overweight – Being overweight or obese puts a lot of stress and pressure on your joints, especially when running and doing other high impact activity. This excessive stress radiates down your body and you end up feeling the pain in your shins. You’ll see that the more weight you lose, the less pain you will have in your shins.
2. Muscle imbalances/ flat feet – These two go hand-in-hand because in some cases, flat feet are caused by muscle imbalances. Your body is one big kinetic chain, and when one of the links in the chain is messed up, it has a trickle down effect, eventually causing symptoms like shin splints.
If you suffer from shin splints then you may have imbalances in the hips — which cause problems the further down the leg you go. It’s hard for me to tell you which muscles are tight and which ones are weak without assessing you, but I’ll name some common ones.
Your gluteus medius may be weak as well. Doing this exercise can help strengthen it.
All of these muscles work together synergistically so finding the exact cause of your shin splints can be tough. But more often than not, if one of these muscles is tight or weak, the others are as well (but maybe not to the same degree).
3. Poor biomechanics – This basically means you have less than desirable form while you run, jog, etc. Some people tend to run leaning forward too much, or leaning too far back. They may also run with their toes excessively pointed outward. Being conscious of these things can help correct them. Consider having a friend film you while you run, it will be much easier to point out where your form needs improvement.
Another thing people may not do while running, is activating your core. This means you should keep your abdominals tight and contracted while you’re running. This keeps your body stable and less likely to throw your form off.
4. Bad shoes – It’s important that you get a quality pair of running shoes or cross trainers depending on what activity you’re doing. Using a pair of old beat up shoes with little support, or shoes that are not meant for running, can have serious effects on you and can lead to chronic injuries over time. Keep in mind that more expensive does not necessarily mean it’s better. Just go with a trusted brand that fits your budget.
The tips I just gave you are for the “big picture” problem. These tips are in the hope of resolving your shin splints by getting to the root of the problem. Now, I’ll give you some tips you can use for the “acute” symptoms of your shin splints (i.e. the pain!).
1. Ice – Icing your shins immediately after you workout will provide some relief from the pain. A bag of frozen peas works well since it conforms to the shape of your leg and fits nicely.
Another method you can try is get a small paper cup, fill it with water and freeze it. Once frozen, remove the paper cup by ripping it, so that you’re left with the small ice cylinder. You can use this to roll and massage your lower leg wherever the pain is. Make sure to use a piece of cloth between the ice and your skin or you could potentially give yourself frostbite!
2. Anti-inflammatory – Medicines like ibuprofen and aspirin can help with the pain. Keep in mind these medications have side effects like bleeding and ulcers. Consult with your physician if you find yourself using these more than occasionally.
3. Lighten the load – Shorten your workout duration for a while or lighten your intensity. Give your body the rest it needs to heal up. You can slowly increase duration and/or intensity when you feel your body is ready for it.
4. Change your mode of exercise – If you like to run but have bad shin splints, try different forms of cardio that are lighter impact. Swimming is a great option, as is the elliptical machine or the bike. The key here is to alleviate some of the stress caused by the high impact activities you do. You can go back to your preferred mode of exercise when your body is healed up a little.
As you can see, shin splints aren’t that straight forward due to the complexity of its underlying causes. But with these tips, you can definitely limit the adverse effects your shin splints causes you. It’s important to address shin splints before it develops into something worse — they can potentially cause stress fractures in your lower leg.