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Many track athletes, as well as those in other sports like soccer, basketball and tennis, know the frustration of shin splints. Pain on the tibia is a complicated injury and is very persistent, often lasting for months or even years! However, through my own training as well as experience in the clinic, I have seen them cured and want to share their secrets.
What Causes Shin Splints
Once we have ruled out stress fractures, an in depth understanding of what causes shin splints and its associated symptoms is key to progression. Three main problems feed off each other, increasing frustration and the complexity of the dysfunction. These are:
- Technique *
In my experience, most shin splints are caused by a weakness in the calf and lower leg musculature, combined with running form that intensifies the load on the legs. As we sprint and do drills, it puts lots of forces through out calf muscles. This is pushed beyond what they can handle if our form is incorrect and we are progressing too fast. As the muscles get injured, they begin to tighten in order to protect themselves. This leads to extra stress being put on the other muscles, as well as the bone, causing pain in the shin. As you can see, there are multiple issues that contribute to shin splints. This is likely why they are so hard to eradicate.
- A reduction of further damage
- Improved form
In my experience, using only one or two of these modalities isn’t enough. My recommendations are as follows:
- Once the muscles and bone are irritated (technically the periosteum, the sheath around the bone), it will take a lot of time to calm them down. Patience is key!
- The shins are being irritated by tight lower leg muscles and improper form. A focus on foam rolling is key to loosen the musculature, while training your body away from techniques that put too much stress on the calves. If exercises are irritating it, stop! This will be elaborated on in part 2.
- Your calf muscles are weak. Calf raises need to be added to your routine, with a low enough intensity that you are not overdoing it and hurting the shins. 3 sets of 10 reps, starting with body weight is a great start. Progress to holding weights, and single leg. Google calf raises if you don’t know how to do them.
- As mentioned above, your technique and form in drills, running, etc. is likely contributing to your pain. In part 2, we will elaborate on what proper form looks like and how to make the change. Subscribe to our email list to be the first to hear when it is published!
Other ideas to explore include everything from therapy and better shoes (How to pick the right ones), to hydration and x-rays for a fracture. As you can see, all aspects of your daily life can play a part. In part 2, we will go further in depth on what technique issues are contributing to shin pain, and other ways to speed up recovery.
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