How to Reduce Your Chances of Shin Splints

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome is pain in the front of the tibia caused by an overload to the tibia and the associated musculature.  MTSS is more commonly known as shin splints.  Athletes and weekend warriors of all ages have experienced shin splints at one time or another, and I’m one of them.  In high school I had shin splints playing soccer at various times, and in training for soccer during distance running regimens I also had the pain.  For most cases, simply buying newer and better supporting shoes can solve the problem.  Let’s look more in detail at how you can prevent MTSS without spending money on footwear.

The science behind shin splints from the National Academy of Sports Medicine says (Moen, Tol, Weir, Steunebrink, & De Winter, 2009), it is an overuse injury thought to be associated with the improper loading of impact forces and a more rigid foot type (Hubbard, Carpenter, & Cordova, 2009).   In regular English, this is referring to how your foot strikes the ground with each running step or jump landing on one foot, typically during sports.  Most athletes and common gym members don’t train, or think about, how they land during a jump or how their foot impacts the surface as they run.  Without a professional to analyze your gait for improper muscle function, why would you?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

When you land from a jump or running step, your lower leg absorbs all the forces from your body.  Your hamstrings and glutes play significant roles also, we are focusing on the lower leg, specifically the tibia, for this blog.  Your lower leg muscles stiffen up to protect the tibia from bending upon impact.  Depending on the angle, shoes you wear, and force your produce upon landing, the body automatically stiffens appropriately to avoid injury. 

Shin splints occur when the lower 1/3 of the medial tibial area cannot absorb landing forces appropriately.  If not treated, you could cause stress fractures to your tibia and possibly further damage.  According to NASM, risk factors for MTSS include improper footwear, over-pronation, rigid foot type (supinated), glute weakness, and delayed stabilization on impact.  Stretching and strengthening muscles around your ankle and in your feet are the best ways to prevent shin splints, besides replacing worn out shoes.

Calf stretch

What muscles need to be stretched?  Before athletic activities, use a foam roller along your calf muscles, and/or roll a frozen water bottle with the bottom of your foot.  Hold your body on the roller for 15-20 seconds on each tender spot of your calf.  Do not roll along your calf like rolling out dough.  Yes, it will hurt, and that’s part of the roller breaking up knots in your fascia.  Spend a couple minutes on each leg.  When you finish rolling, spend 20-30 seconds holding a calf stretch on each leg.  Do not bounce!  Repeat this process before every run, workout, or sport practice.  Also stretch after your activity.

What muscles need to be strengthened?  The muscles along the bottom of your feet and in the shin.  The anterior tibialis is the muscle that draws your foot up.  You can attach a band to a bench and pull your toes toward you.  Another alternative is to walk like you have swim fins on and deliberately point your toes up as high as you can, placing your heels on the ground with each step for 20-30 steps.  Do this for 1-2 sets.  Perform a short foot movement like the picture shows: bring the ball of your foot towards your heel without using your toes.  It’s tricky and takes practice. 

Short foot start
Short foot finish

To learn what a comprehensive corrective exercise program can do for you, contact me at athleteinthegameoflife@gmail.com, and go to mattpeale.com.  Who is a corrective exercise program good for?  Everyone!  We are all athletes in the game of life, it’s time you treated yourself like it!

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