Shin splints, technically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, describes pain upon the inside of the shin bone where the fascia pulls away from the bone during excessive exercise. Shin splints are common among athletes and soldiers, especially runners who are training for an event too quickly without adequate recovery. Shin splints are responsible for about 15% of all running injuries and occur due to training too fast, too hard, and too long. Symptoms are often worse at the beginning of a workout while moving but return once the body has cooled down. If pain persists for more than 5 minutes following exercise, the risk and concern for a stress fracture are higher. (ChiroUp.com)
With heel strike upon walking or running, there is a controlled lengthening of the shin muscles tibialis anterior and extensor digitorum longus. This lengthening action is called an eccentric contraction which controls the speed at which our foot rocks through its weight-bearing cycle from heel to toe while plantarflexing. Add a weighted pack or extra miles in a week without adequate rest, recovery, and conditioning, the connective tissue at the inside of the leg will begin to pull away from the tibia bone causing pain, soreness, and hypertonicity. Normally, when we exercise and receive adequate rest, our bone and connective tissues repair allowing further training. Without progressive training and recovery, shin splints can cause us to stop in our tracks.
Research shows that rest is the best treatment for shin splints due to the nature of its exercise-induced pain response. Ice, massage, stretching, and strengthening throughout the kinetic chain are useful in tissue healing as well as balancing any biomechanical issues. Hyperpronation is a leading risk factor for developing shin splints due to the improper loading of the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Force transfer from the ground through the body should ideally be absorbed through several tissues to distribute more evenly decreasing overuse in one region of the body. Athletes may need to cross-train with non-impact activities until the connective tissue can heal. Tight gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are additional risk factors for developing shin splints with exercise, as well as a high BMI.
If you’re training for an event, be it running or hiking, make sure to train progressively with adequate recovery. Recovery means getting enough sleep, hydration, nutrition, active rest like movement, foam rolling, massage, and even strengthening. Strengthening common weak points goes a long way to preventing injury, especially for those participating in endurance events. Add calf strengthening with eccentric calf lowers, shin strengthening with eccentric foot drops, focused resistance band work, and toe/heel walks. Using a lacrosse ball to release tight tissue throughout the shin and calf is another great way to reduce tension while strengthening and conditioning. Make sure to sink into the tissue slowly and add ankle movement to pin and stretch the tissue. Caution should be used near the knee and ankle joints as the thin muscles become tendinous near their attachment points. Also, take time each day to stand and walk barefoot when possible, whether while standing at the computer, walking around the house, and ideally outside in the grass and on varying surfaces with rocks and roots. This will strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet reducing the chance of hyperpronation while also activating your core.