A majority of soccer players are affected by shin splints at some point in their sports career. High level athletes are more prone to the condition, but when assessed and treated properly, they can return to sport with little to no residual effect. Untreated shin splints with prolonged pain can lead to stress fracture and/or tissue damage in the lower leg. Quick resolution of shin splints can also reduce subsequent occurrences. Find out how to treat shin splints the proper way.
WHAT ARE SHIN SPLINTS?
Shin splints tend to mean any pain in the shin region (or tibia). It’s a catch-all phrase at this point in our collective vocabulary. To distinguish, the lower leg pain can be due to many conditions, but most commonly: compartment syndrome, stress fracture, or medial tibial stress syndrome. All three of these conditions have some overlapping symptoms, but the first two probably require medical attention to resolve. Compartment syndrome can be very dangerous, so the reader should learn the signs and symptoms that differentiate compartment syndrome from the other two shin pain scenarios. Compartment syndrome swelling is a medical emergency and needs immediate attention. Stress fracture tends to have very localized pain, as the fracture occurs in a specific part of the tibial bone. X-ray may be necessary to confirm or rule out fracture. The third, medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), is the focus of this article. Therefore, when we discuss shin splints in this article, it refers to MTSS and vice versa.
WHO CAN GET SHIN SPLINTS?
Any athlete who engages in heavy lifting and/or high impact sports is prone to MTSS. Athletes who quickly ramp up training activity can also suffer from shin splints. Also, if one has a poor post-training cool-down and recovery plan, the likelihood of lower leg pain increases. Incorrect body mechanics when exercising can also overwork the lower leg structure unnecessarily. Running on hard and/or uneven surfaces will put increased strain on the lower legs. Musculature that has high tonicity, low range of motion, and/or spasms can also make one more prone to shin splints. Lastly, poor footwear can create instability in the ankles and cause MTSS to occur.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU HAVE SHIN SPLINTS & HOW DOES IT FEEL?
Some of the key signs of shin splints are:
- Pain on either side of the tibia
- Increased pain on/around tibia when exercising/running
- Tenderness in muscles to either side of the tibia
- Mild swelling
- Redness over anterior portion of tibia
One may have more than one of the above signs concurrently. Shin splints pain can be intermittent or constant with diffuse sharp pain and it will usually be aggravated with continued impact training. Sufferers tend to describe the pain as shooting or stabbing.
WHERE IS THE PAIN LOCATED ON THE BODY?
Shin splints cause pain in the tibial region of the lower leg. Pain typically occurs along the medial length of the tibia or along the lateral side. It is a more diffuse pain rather than localized. Pain may also be felt on the soft tissue around the tibia itself.
WHY DOES IT HURT?
It is generally accepted that shin splints are caused by overuse and overloading of tissue in the lower leg. High impact exercise is the major instigator of medial tibial stress syndrome. That being said, the mechanism that elicits the pain sensation is not completely understood. Theories vary, and we believe that a combination of high muscle tonicity, muscular spasm, fascial irritation, and bone vibrational stress all play a role. Therefore, we think that a multiple-pronged approach is the most complete way to treat shin splints effectively.
OUR PRODUCT RECOMMENDATION FOR SHIN SPLINTS
THE ATHLETE SELF CARE & TREATMENT
At Battle Balm, we empower the athlete with knowledge and techniques to reduce injury, stop pain, increase performance, and stay on top of the game.
In every TASC segment, we will focus on treatments that 1) minimize swelling & inflammation, 2) improve blood & lymph circulation, and 3) increase range of motion. When it comes to injury, these three things will facilitate recovery and speed the body's healing processes.
1. Massage - There are 3 target muscles we recommend you to palpate and massage: Soleus, Tibialis Anterior, Tibialis Posterior. These muscles are easily accessible and can be treated using the hands, massage balls, foam rollers, and more. There are many online videos on massaging these muscles effectively. Other muscles, such as the fibularis group can also benefit from being massaged in this case. Note that massage strokes do not necessarily have to be towards the heart, but if the technique is easier to perform this way, then by all means take advantage. By the way, Battle Balm is an excellent medium for deep tissue and sports massage techniques as it is 100% natural and glides well on the skin.
2. Stretch - The lower legs can be stretched easily and should be stretched regularly, regardless of whether or not shin splints are present. Our recommendation is to hold these calf stretches for 1-3 minutes at a time. A light warmup, such as a 5 minute brisk walk, to engage the calves and increase blood flow, will help facilitate the soft tissue stretch. Application of Battle Balm prior to the stretch will decrease pain response, improve local circulation and reduce chance of spasm during the stretch phase.
Three stretches that are great for shin splints:
- a) Heel drop stretch - can be done on stairs or any object that can raise the toes relative to the heels. Stretches posterior muscles of lower leg, i.e. gastrocnemius, soleus, posterior tibialis.
- Kneeling shin stretch - Great for stretching anterior tibialis. An alternative stretch to this is the toe drag stretch, which can be done standing or sitting, if kneeling is not an option.
- Standing wall calf stretch - All you need is a wall to perform this stretch for the posterior calf muscles.
3. Heat Treatment - When you want to improve blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, ice is not your friend. Muscles and soft tissue perform better when warmed up. We recommend applying Battle Balm to the injured area and using a variety of heat treatment methods depending on your convenience. We'll outline a few heating ideas in order of heat intensity:
- Elastic or ACE bandage wrap - Loosely wrap lower leg around the gastrocnemius region to provide some warmth and compression.
- Heating pad - Apply heating pad for 15 minutes. Perform calf stretches for 5 minutes. Apply heating pad for 10 minutes. Do these 30 minute sessions a few times a day to loosen muscle tissue and boost circulation.
- Hot tub or sauna - This is a great way to really heat up the entire lower leg and promote fluid circulation and drainage in the area. Amplify the circulatory system by warming the leg for 15 minutes, cooling the leg for 5 minutes and repeating the procedure 2-3 times.
Our goal is to help you get out of pain quickly by maximizing your body's own healing mechanisms to promote recovery, prevent future injury, and enhance performance. Let us know what you think in the comments below!