Shin splints are a particularly annoying ailment—ask any athlete—but they are treatable and preventable.
First, a definition, from Active.com: “’Shin splints’ is a general term for a condition caused by inflammation to the anterior or posterior muscles and tendons in the lower leg or adjacent soft tissue along the shin bone [tibia].” Think how sore you feel from your first set of Squats after a long break, then apply that feeling to the muscles and tendons along your shin bones.
Shin splints are most commonly caused by a sudden and dramatic increase in intensity and/or frequency of a workout. Also, according to active.com, “Switching from soft surfaces [grass, rubberized court] to hard surfaces may put you at greater risk.”
The condition can be experienced by athletes across the entire sports spectrum, but there are steps you can take to avoid it.
Although it’s impossible to completely rule out the possibility of shin splints, a smart athlete is always a healthier athlete. If you’ve taken a few weeks off after a rough season, don’t expect to give 110 percent on your first day back without consequences. You have to ease back into the stress that working out places on your body.
Another strategy is to continue training with an occasional recovery week—seven days during which you lighten your training load. Your body will still experience some external stress, but your muscles will get a bit of the TLC they need after a hard season or weeks of rigorous training.
By keeping your lower leg muscles strong, Calf Raises are another good way to ward off shin splints. In addition, Tibia Raises build strength along the shins by forcing you repeatedly to dorsiflex your feet [flexing your toes up toward your shins].
Start strengthening your lower legs with David Oliver’s Tibia Raises and Thomas Vanek’s Calf Raises.
- Keep the tibia and foot engaged
- Dorsiflex and hold form for at least 10 seconds
- Start with no weight or light weight
- Perform as many fast twitch reps as possible
Sets/Reps: 2×10 seconds each leg
- Go through the full range of motion
- Maintain a slight bend in your knee and hip
- Train the movement, not the muscle
Sets/Reps: 3×4 10-15 with 60-90 seconds rest
Before you self-diagnose your achy legs, be sure to see a doctor to rule out a stress fracture. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for shin splints. Rest is the ticket, and full recovery can take weeks or even months.
But don’t lose hope. There are ways to keep you moving and speed up your recovery. “During the initial recovery period, try low-impact workouts, such as stationary cycling, elliptical machines and pool running. Icing the inflamed area [20 minutes on, 20 minutes off] and using anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, will reduce swelling,” says Active.com.
Determining what triggered the shin splints is also important. Was it a sudden change to your routine? A new pair of shoes? Pinpoint the catalyst so you can avoid repeat occurrences of this nagging injury.