Spring time, sunshine and shin splints!
By Dr. John Neal (Woodstock and Fredericton)
Let me tell you a story about a time when I was a little foolish!
I signed up and participated in a Santa Clause 5k run in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario! The foolish part was that I decided to run the 5k with a brand new pair of orthotics without first ever wearing them! After the first kilometer, I was quickly feeling an intense burn in the front of my left leg. My shin was on fire! This burn was very familiar to me though as it was muscle fatigue! It was tired due to the change in running mechanics brought on by the foreign object in my shoe: the orthotic! As the body adjusted to this new movement mechanics, I never felt that issue again. However, the same cannot be said for actual shin splints!
Anyone who has actually dealt with shin splints would understand that what I had was not the same thing. Shin splints, known more accurately as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, is a condition that is much more serious than a tired muscle. What happens with this condition is a stressful pulling of the muscle from the bone occurs and causes inflammation and pain at the sight of stress. This condition is aggravated and worsened by running or walking with pain during and after the event. This condition is typically a long standing issue as people and athletes usually try to ignore it and hope it goes away. The pain will subside when they rest and take a break from the aggravating activity but the pain usually comes back when they go back to it.
If it does go away and never returns, that’s good! That shows that the healing was successful and you’re all set to continue the activity. In some cases, a person suffering from the condition can get the aggravated muscle successfully treated to decrease the stress on the bone and provide pain relief. However, if the CAUSE of the problem was never dealt with, this condition typically relapses when they try to increase their activity! In my experience, there are multiple causes that lead to the actual tightening of the muscle that pulls on the tibia bone (shin). Whenever I’m assessing people with this condition, I assess the muscle being stressed and then take a step back from the area of complaint and go big picture! It is important to see how the hips, knees, and ankles are working during walking and running. Once you see how they are moving you can get a strong sense of which muscles are over-active and which ones are under-active. This chain of events is typically the reason why one muscle gets stressed and pulls on the bone more than it should; leading to this syndrome!
If you think/know you are dealing with this, be rest assured that there is help for you! A proper course of treatment to correct muscle and joint dysfunction in the movement chain with relative decrease in activity can help decrease the stress and allow for healing and movement mechanics to take effect! As a chiropractor, I love that I can help solve problems like Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (shin splints) and many more musculoskeletal conditions that hinder people’s life. There is no need for this condition to stand in the way of your activity goals! Whether it is running a marathon, walking the trails, or playing soccer, shin splints are an all-too-common condition that has a relatively simple fix.
Now without knowing your specific biomechanics, training regimen, or functional anatomy, I would like to provide a sample of exercises that are commonly used to strengthen aspects of the kinetic chain that is related to this condition. These exercises may aid you in self-management of this condition because they will address issues that are commonly found in people with Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (shin splints). The exercises to try are ankle inversions and eversions using a resistance band, as well as glute strengthening exercises!
As well, for the running crowd who want some support NOW, my friend Dr. Erik has a video about how to use athletic tape for shin splints while you continue to run. Remember, taping without rehab is just a short term fix!
Thank you for reading this article and I hope you learned something new! Please don’t let pain or dysfunction stop you from living the life you want to live! We are here to help you achieve your health and fitness goals. Take care of yourself so you can enjoy your activities this spring! If you have any questions or suggestions on another health topic, don’t hesitate to contact me!