Medial tibial stress syndrome, also known as shin splints, are a common issue for both athletes and military members. Classified as an overuse injury, the actual cause of shin splints is unknown, but most experts agree that micro-trauma to the soft tissue surrounding the tibia and the resulting inflammatory response are at fault.
MTSS can begin with minor pain on the inside of the shin-bone during or after physical activity. The covering of the bone (periosteum) that the shin muscles attach to on the tibia become inflamed (periostitis), and these symptoms can quickly escalate to the point where pain persists during normal daily activities. If left untreated, stress fractures can begin to form along the tibia, which in extreme cases may result in a compound fracture.
Risk-factors for shin splints include: high impact activities (i.e., basketball), poor flexibility, excessive pronation (see our article on pronators), or too much time spent walking or running. Runners and hikers tend to be susceptible to this condition due to a combination of the last three risk-factors outlined.
The good news is that shin splints are treatable, and all you need are a few cheap items around the home or at the gym. (1) Invest in a foam roller and work on the lower body (not just the calves). Think of the legs as a kinetic chain – they transfer force from the foot all the way to the upper body, so it makes sense to treat the quads, hamstrings, and glutes when dealing with shin-splints. (2) Increase your range of motion by stretching dynamically before exercise and statically after (article coming soon on static and dynamic stretching). Combining activities 1 and 2 can really help to loosen tight muscles in the legs, resulting in better transfer of force and less stress on the small muscles surrounding the shins.
Strengthening is as important as improving your range of motion, so here is an exercise effective for the lower-leg. (3) Single-leg balancing on a flat surface is an easy way to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of the legs and feet. This is an easy one to perform – just get up and balance for 30-60 seconds for about 3 sets on each leg. All 3 of these activities are simple, quick, and require little space, so you can effectively treat your shin-splints while you watch TV!
HERE ARE SOME DEMONSTRATIONS!
(1) FOAM ROLL THE LOWER BODY
**SEE OUR YOUTUBE CHANNEL FOR MANY FOAM ROLLING TECHNIQUES!
(2) STRETCH THE LEGS, SPECIFICALLY THE CALVES
A simple stretch that targets the gastrocnemius muscle (calf muscle). Hold for between 30 and 60 seconds.
This stretch is similar to the gastroc stretch, except this time the trailing knee will be slightly bent rather than straightened. This will target the soleus, a muscle just under the gastroc (still a calf muscle), which is important for plantarflexion (think toes pointing down).
(3) SINGLE-LEG BALANCE ACTIVITIES
A single leg balance activity that’s great for re-establishing strength in the lower leg. Could be used in a rehab program for shin splints.
Orthotics, exercise programs, stretching regimens, and soft-tissue manipulation are all viable options. The experts at Athletes’ Advantage Physiotherapy in St. Albert can help with your shin-splint related pain, so contact us at 780-460-9977 or firstname.lastname@example.org for your assessment!
The city of St. Albert has a great trails system, so if you want to go for a run now that the weather is making a turn for the better (fingers crossed), check out the map below!