First of all, what are shin splints?
The large shin bone in the lower leg is called the tibia. Increased activity, stress, or overuse of this bone can cause it to become irritated or aggravated. Shin splints are most commonly experienced by runners and the pain can be strong enough to inhibit sustained exercise.
What could be causing my shin splints?
The cause of shin splints can be determined by examining a person’s walking/running mechanics. During a stride, the feet might point inward (called pronation) or outward (supination). Flat feet or abnormal arches may also contribute to a problematic stride. Additionally, calf tightness can adversely affect the way the foot strikes the ground. These issues will end up resulting in increased stress on the tibia.
Overuse is another cause of shin splints. Inexperienced runners may train beyond their body’s limits. If a person were to go from a sedentary lifestyle straight into strenuous training, the lack of conditioning would likely lead to unnecessary stress and injury. This is why it is important to gradually let the body become accustomed to increased exercise levels.
I’m training for a half-marathon and I am struggling with shin splints. What can I do?
Proper footwear can make a big difference in correcting the stride. Just like golf clubs, spending a little time and money towards getting proper equipment will offer better results than just buying something off the rack. Instead of buying shoes online sight unseen, experienced retailers will be able to find a pair of shoes that fit best and are also well suited for specific activities (or terrain). There is even new research being released that says running barefoot will train the arches of the feet. (Of course, barefoot running may not be appropriate on certain types of terrain.)
Another important area to address for shin splints is the calf muscles. Calf tightness can often be prevented by using orthotics. In the past, I’ve spoken about utilizing foam rollers and massage therapy to break up the tissue. Active release therapies and a good stretching program will also maintain calf mobility and prevent shin splints from developing.
There are also common weak areas that cause mobility issues, such as the hips or glutes. Sitting down for prolonged periods may lead to gluteal amnesia, where the glutes become weakened. After this happens, patients tend to compensate in other body parts such as the knee, ankle, or foot. Addressing these gluteal stability issues can be another way to prevent shin splints.
I definitely recommend that anybody experiencing shin splints visit their physical therapist, chiropractor, or physician to determine any underlying issues that need to be addressed. A qualified professional will be able to determine whether the patient’s shin splints are caused by overuse, foot problems, or weakness in other areas. From there, a customized plan can be developed to treat the issue and prevent it from developing in the future. In the meantime, ice, rest, and an anti-inflammatory can be good options to manage symptoms.
Contact Dr. Riley and the team at Tulsa Spine and Rehab, or give us a call at (918) 743-3737.