How to treat shin splints
with advice from Lisa Cox, ATC
Simply put, when you have pain in the shin bone or tibia (the front of your lower leg), you have shin splints. Most common in runners and dancers, shin splints can be caused by overuse or overtraining, or musculoskeletal issues like ankle instability or flat feet.
When you experience such pain, especially while exercising, it is best to back off from activity. If the pain continues, says Lisa Cox, “medical care should be sought sooner than later.” A certified athletic trainer at Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality member in Tennessee), Lisa explains that those who wait 3 – 4 weeks to seek treatment often have longer recovery times than those who seek treatment sooner.
In addition, she says, some athletes who simply shrug off the pain as “just shin splints” end up having stress fractures, which must be treated by a physician and usually require a walking boot or cast. Such treatment also requires a complete break from activity until the fractures heal.
Injuries can never be completely avoided, but there are some stretches that can help to decrease your chances of shin splints. Lisa suggests doing calf stretches (that is, stretching the gastrocnemis muscle) before and/or after activity. This can be done by facing the wall with one foot behind you or by standing on a flight of stairs and then dropping your heels down.
Companies like Medi-Dyne, a Physiquality partner, also offer several tools to help avoid shin splints. Products like the ProStretch and ProStretch Plus help to stretch out the gastrocnemius and improve calf flexibility. And muscle massagers can help to increase circulation and reduce muscle tightness.
If shin pain does not disappear after a couple of days of rest, it may be time to see your physical therapist. “PTs specialize in recognizing muscle weaknesses that can cause pain and injury,” reminds Lisa. Not only can a physical therapist develop a plan to strengthen the gastrocnemius and ankle muscles, he or she can also evaluate your gait and stride to see if musculoskeletal variances are a part of your problem. If necessary, a PT can help you select orthotics to correct foot position and alignment during activity, which can decrease pain from head to toe.
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||Lisa Cox, ATC, is a Certified Athletic Trainer at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network member in Clinton, Tennessee. She works with patients with sports injuries and orthopedic issues, and helps implement the CPTC Sports Enhancement Program for local high school teams.
For further reading, look through our selection of articles on injury prevention and treatment, in addition to the below links:
BodyMaps: Gastrocnemius. HealthLine.com, April 6, 2015.
Shin splints. WebMD, 2014.
Standing calf stretch image ©Practical Pedal.