Shin Splints

Pain on either the front or the inside of the shin? Increased pain following exercise – particularly after running? Then you could possibly be suffering from shin splints!

Not a pleasant condition to be suffering from but with proper assessment and planning the condition is not too difficult to treat. Generally, soft tissue massage in and around the shin area and a loosening of the calf muscle is normally enough to settle things down, but what do we do to ensure the condition does not return? Well in this blog we are about to find out!

What are the causes?

There are number of underlying reasons as to why you may be suffering from the condition and it wouldn’t be possible for me to talk about all of them here so I would like to concentrate on an area many of you may not have thought of – weak glutes!

Weak Glutes!

Many people, particularly those amongst the running community, will be well used to being advised to strengthen their glutes. We are often told how if the glutes aren’t ‘firing’ then we can begin to suffer from many a niggling injury, including back, hip, knee planter fasciitis and ….shin splints! To the untrained eye it can appear baffling as to how a weak butt muscle can potentially cause pain in the shin! Well, I’m going to (try!) and give a brief explanation as to why:

As we walk or run we are placing our body weight onto a single leg each time we take a stride. If our gluteal muscles (Glute Maximus and Glute Medius) are not strong then they cannot support our weight as we go through the gait cycle. This will result in our knee bowing inwards towards the midline and to potentially also cause the foot to roll too far inwards.

As you can see from the image, the runner on the left has a straight alignment of the leg; if we look at the runner in the second image then we can see the leg bowing inwards as the knee collapses into the midline (as a result of the hip and gluteal muscle weakness). This will result in the tissues (muscles ligaments etc.) being constantly pulled, strained and lengthened out of position each step we take. If we are taking around 10,000 steps per day then the muscles of the lower leg which attach to the tibia (or shin bone) will be constantly pulling and tugging on the bone each time we take a step. This will eventually lead to the tissues becoming inflamed and the result will be pain!

If our glutes are strong and working correctly then our leg will track in a straight line and the tissues of the lower limb will not be placed under the same amount of strain.

A glute strengthening programme will generally be implemented to fix the problem.

Conclusion

I hope this has given some insight into the potential reasons behind shin splints and also given some of you a bit of hope that with some sensible advice and correct exercises a solution is never usually far away. It is tempting to try and cure the problem with massage alone – and although this is useful and necessary – it will normally not work in isolation as the underlying cause is not being treated (tissues do not normally become tight for no reason!). It’s also worth a note that shin splints are often considered an overuse injury so if you have recently started a new activity (usually running or a gym activity) the you ay want to reduce activity levels and increase at a more sensible pace!

Advice

The short term advice would be to stretch the lower leg muscles including the calf and tibialis anterior (muscle at the front of the shin).

For a long term solution then the advise is to seek proper assessment and treatment in order to find the root cause of your problem ensuring the issue doesn’t return.

To help some of you get a head start I’ve included some basic stretching exercises for the condition. Hope they help!

Shin Stretch

You don’t even have to get out of your desk chair for this variation of the anterior tibialis shin stretch. This one works best with a desk chair where you can maneuver your leg under and behind you while seated.

  • Drop your knee towards the ground so the toe of your foot is extended into the ground as in the standing stretch.

  • Gently pull forward while the toe is planted in the ground, similar to the standing stretch but seated.

  • Hold for 15 to 20 seconds.

  • Repeat for each foot.

  • You may want to do this stretch several times each day.

Calf Stretch

Stand near a wall with one foot in front of the other, front knee slightly bent.

  1. Keep your back knee straight, your heel on the ground, and lean toward the wall.

  2. Feel the stretch all along the calf of your back leg.

  3. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds.

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