How To Fix My Shin Splints? – A 4-Step Guide

By Dom Dasiewicz

If you’re reading this, then you’re probably interested in why you’re suffering with pain on the front of your shins after performing physical activity. Don’t worry I got you covered, this blog will explain the causes of shin splints, with a 4-step guide on fixing this injury, using clinical evidence.

Firstly, you ought to be aware that there are 5 different causes of shin pain. Some of those causes are unfortunately a bit more serious, and may require referral to a specialist, therefore I highly suggest booking in for an assessment to see what is causing your shin pain. Thankfully we have a team of skilled physio and sports therapists which will be able to do that for you, so don’t hesitate and book in with us.

man running

The most common cause of shin pain, and the one which this blog will focus on is medial tibial stress syndrome, or “shin splints”. This is an overuse injury, where weakness of the surrounding musculature or a lack of mobility can bring upon inflammation at the distal tibia
(your shin bone). Shin splints are most commonly seen in high impact sports such as football, rugby, or any other activity of that nature. Reports suggest that running has an incidence rate ranging from 13.6% to 20% of developing shin splints (Lopes et al. 2012).

To see if you have true shin splints, and not any of the other possible causes of similar pain, ask yourself these questions…

Is the pain on the inside of your shin bone?

Does the pain decrease as you warm up?

Is it worse in the morning and after exercise?

If you answered yes to all those questions, then you most likely are suffering from medial stress syndrome meaning that this 4-step guide is exactly what you need.

 

So now we discussed what shin splints are, lets see what we can do to fix this problem. Here I will go through my 4-step guide focusing on: finding out the cause of the issue, pain management, improving strength and mobility, and correcting pre-disposing factors.

 

Step 1 – Finding The Cause

Finding out the cause of your pain is a crucial step to guide our treatment approach. A literature review from Winkelman et al. 2016 suggests that increased BMI, poor ankle, or hip mobility, as well as a collapsed foot arch are all associated risk factors for developing shin splints. Knowing which cause is affecting you specifically, will allow you to move pain free as soon as possible, which I’m sure is the main goal! This will therefore save time, money, and unnecessary stress. To help you find out what exactly is causing your shin
splints, you can book in for an injury assessment with the Physiocrew, either through the online booking in system, or by phone.

 

Step 2 – Pain Management

The most important factor regarding pain management is load management. If your shin splints flair up after running for 5 minutes, then this indicates that the tissue simply can’t withstand the load put upon it at this current moment in time. Therefore, managing your load whilst you’re still in this initial stage of rehabilitation is another crucial step of getting better and back to full fitness.

Myofascial release is a useful modality to help you manageyour pain. For this I recommend foam rolling your calves for about 1-2 minutes on each leg, focusing on ‘tight’ areas, then doing the same on the front of your shins, trying to release some tension in the tibialis anterior muscle.

Clinical findings also suggest Kinesio taping as a useful modality of managing shin pain (Kachanathu et al. 2018). This offloads the surrounding muscles by providing neurophysiological feedback to the brain which can decrease pain. Both myofascial release and K-taping are treatments which can be provided in the Physiocrew clinic to help you manage your pain.

 

Step 3 – Improving strength and mobility

Strengthening and stretching the calves and the shin muscles is a key step for fixing shin splints. Going back to the first step of this guide, knowing the cause of the problem will guide the strengthening program. For example, if the reason why you’re getting shin splints
is over pronation (collapsed foot arch), then strengthening should be targeted for the deepmuscles in your lower leg which provide that arch and stability. Nevertheless, daily eccentric strengthening of the soleus, gastrocnemius, tibialis anterior, as well as the muscles which
provide foot rotation have been suggested to help with shin splints (Galbraith and Lavallee 2009). Mobility should be performed to individual needs. If you get tight shin muscles after exercise then you should focus on stretching your tibialis anterior, if you suffer from tight achilles as, taking that knee over the toes and stretching out your calf muscles will be most optimal to improve mobility. 3-4 sets of at least 30s will do the job.

Step 4 – correcting predisposing factors

To fix your shin splints for good, it is important to correct any factor which started the inflammation in the first place. Clinical findings suggest that predisposing factors can be split into two categories, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic factors are related to our own unique
physiology and biomechanics. For example, increased valgus or foot overpronation are usually the most common intrinsic factors which might predispose an individual to this injury (Wilder and Sethi 2004). Extrinsic factors relate to external environments which can
influence our body. For example, uneven or hard running surface, footwear, total training load, training intensity etc. To the naked eye these are things which might not spark any type of concern, however if load exceeds tissue adaptation, or if footwear is not suitable for
training conditions, then injuries will occur. As sports and physio therapists we need to look at the bigger picture regarding any injury, meaning we can help to identify the not so obvious reasons why you’re suffering from shin pain.