One of the risks of exercising is experiencing shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). Avoid this painful condition with proper shin splint stretches, and by performing exercises for shin splints before and after your workout regime.
The lower leg takes on the weight of your body as you walk, run, and jump. Prevention is key in avoiding damage to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the leg. Learn stretches for shin splints in the treatment and prevention of this agonizing compliant.
What Are Shin Splints? The Anatomy of Shin Splints
Shin splints is the common name for pain in the anterior of the lower leg caused by inflamed tissue, tendons, and muscle of the tibia. The tibia is the larger bone of the two that connect the knee to the ankle.
The tibia runs along the inside of the leg, or the medial. The other lower leg bone is the fibula, which runs on the outside (lateral side) of the leg.
These two bones and their connecting parts work together to allow the skeletal system to move. But they can become damaged or injured with overuse and fatigue from maintaining the stability of the body.
Athletes, dancers, and military personnel frequently suffer from shin splint. It is seen when a regular workout activity is intensified, placing more pressure on the shin muscles.
Pain can radiate in one or both legs, and usually increases with movement such as walking or running. Once the pain begins, it can continue even when the legs are at rest in more severe cases.
Symptoms of shin splints may include pain down the front of the legs, tenderness of the lower legs, and swelling of the shin area.
Causes of Shin Splints
As mentioned, the repetitive use of the lower legs in exercising, walking, and even standing can cause wear and tear on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and tissues.
These recurring activities can place physical stress on the tibia, resulting in inflammation of the covering of the bone’s tissue, known as the periosteum. When this happens, it is called periostitis. As damaged muscle tissues swell, they can compress the bones and trigger the pain receptors.
Trauma to the tibia can also be seen with a disease of the tendon, known as tendinopathy. This can occur with excessive use of the tibialis anterior muscle that runs along the shin parallel to the tibia bone. The muscle ends at the medial side of the ankle and the tendon continues along the foot to the big toe.
Periosteal remodeling, which is the regeneration and bone growth of a damaged bone, can cause tibial injury.
Muscle injury of adjoining tissues can also cause shin splints. These can include the soleus muscle of the calf, muscles of the tibialis posterior, or the inside of the ankle, and the tibialis anterior muscle.
Shin splints are commonly seen with:
- Increased activity of the legs
- Running sports, especially when running up hills
- Beginning to run or jog
- Activities with repeated stops
- Daily workouts
- Abnormal arches or flat feet
- Exercise on hard surfaces
- Improper footwear
- Overuse of worn footwear
- Physical stress from small bone fractures (can lead to complete stress fractures)
Shin Splint Stretches
Once the pain is alleviated and any swelling of the shin muscles has decreased, it is important to stretch and strengthen the muscles with exercises. Stretching exercises may also help to prevent reoccurrence of shin pain. We will now learn how to stretch shin splints safely and effectively.
1. Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch
Stretching of the calf muscles can have an indirect effect on the shin muscles. This stretch focuses on the largest calf muscle, and is one of the more common shin splint exercises.
Lean with hands against the wall and one leg out in the back. Keep the heel of the outward leg against the floor to feel a stretch of the calf muscle. Hold for 20 seconds before releasing tension, and repeat three times.
2. Soleus Muscle Stretch
As the other major calf muscle, the soleus also needs to be stretched. Do this properly by relaxing the gastrocnemius muscle.
Stand facing the wall with the foot of the affected leg placed behind you and slightly bent with heel on the floor. You should feel a stretch in the lower calf. Hold for 30 seconds, release tension, and repeat three times.
3. Seated Shin Stretches
The front and back muscles of the lower leg work together and must be stretched together for optimum results. This seated shin stretch will be felt mainly on the front of the leg.
Kneel on the floor and sit on your heels with your hands placed flat on the floor behind you. Lean back slightly as you push down on the heels for a stretching of the shin muscles. Hold for 30 seconds before releasing tension. Repeat three times.
4. Toe Raises
Strengthening the shin muscles are just as important as stretching, and this toe raising exercise should begin with low counts with a gradual buildup of repetitions. Avoid overdoing this exercise as it can worsen the strain.
Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Keep the heel on the floor as you raise the rest of the foot off the floor. Hold for two seconds and relax the foot. Repeat as you work up to 20 times gradually over the coming days.
5. Calf Raise Exercise
This strengthening exercise will focus on all of the lower leg muscles. Begin working on both legs at the same time before working up to perform on one leg at a time.
Stand with knees straight and feet shoulder-width apart. Lift heels off of the floor as though standing on toes and slowly return heels to floor. Balance yourself, if need be, with a chair or wall. Build up to using a step to allow the heel to drop down past the edge of the step.
6. Resisted Dorsiflexion
Strengthen the shin muscles and prevent shin splints with use of a resistance band. You can wrap one end around a sturdy piece of furniture, or have a partner hold the band.
Sit on the floor with the resistance band looped around the front of the foot, just below the base of the toes. Begin with the foot pointed away, allowing the band to be loose. Flex the foot toward the lower leg and slowly return to the starting point.
7. Heel and Toe Walking
Proper walking is essential to maintain the strength and flexibility of the shin, ankle, and calf muscles. This heel and toe walking exercise will also help to stabilize balance.
Begin walking, forcefully placing the heel on the floor and rolling the foot so the tips of the toes touch the floor. Push off with the toes on one foot as the heel of the other foot steps in front of you. Continue to do this movement as you walk around the room or down a hallway.
8. Wall Shin Raises
Wall shin raises strengthen the muscles of the front of the lower leg while promoting self-control of the ankle and foot while walking.
Stand with your back against a wall for support and place both feet a distance of one foot from the wall. Lift toes off the floor while the heels remain on the floor. Lower the toes to the floor without touching and lift again. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
9. Manual Shin Stretch
If standing or lying on the floor is difficult for you, you can stretch the shin muscles while sitting in a chair.
Place the right ankle over the left thigh with the right hand holding onto the right calf for stability. Place your left forearm along the right foot with the left hand on top of the shin. Press the left hand down for a stretch of the shin and ankle for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing. Repeat three times on each foot.
Yoga Poses for Shin Splints
Since shin splint pain can be caused by weak and unbalanced muscles of the lower leg, yoga poses may help to reverse damage of the shin muscles. The following positions are intended to show how to treat shin splits as well as prevent them.
1. Legs up the Wall
Sit on the floor parallel to a wall. Place legs on the wall with the head and shoulders lying flat on the floor. Remain in this position for 10 minutes to promote relaxation of the shin muscles.
2. Hero Pose
Kneel on the floor with the feet tucked under you. The top of the foot should be flat on the floor. Lean back on the heels to offer a gentle but balanced stretch to the shin muscles and those on top of the feet. Hold for one minute before releasing tension.
3. Tree Pose
In a standing position, place feet shoulder-width apart and lift right leg while placing weight on the left foot. Place the right foot flat against the left leg above or below the knee. You can keep your balance by raising arms above the head, palms facing inwards. Hold pose for one minute before repeating on opposite leg.
Other Non-Surgical Treatments for Shin Splints
Before returning to physical activity, it is important to know how to heal shin splints properly, to prevent further damage to the lower leg. Give yourself at least two pain-free weeks, and then return to your daily workouts gradually.
- Rest: Rest the shin muscles and avoid the strenuous activity that may have caused the pain for several weeks. Keep physically active by performing exercises that have a lower impact on the shin muscles such as cycling and swimming.
- Ice: Apply cold compresses on the sore shin muscles for 20-minute treatments throughout the day. Wrap ice in a cloth or towel.
- Compression: Wrap the shins with a compression stocking or bandage to treat any swelling of the muscles. This is one of the best ways how to get rid of shin splints.
- Flexibility Exercises: Gently perform stretching exercises that target the shin muscles to release any tension that stimulates pain.
- Supportive Shoes: Wear footwear that provides soft support on the feet to alleviate any stress on the shin muscles.
How to Reduce Risk of Shin Splints
- Always stretch properly before and after any exercise routine, including walking.
- Wear proper footwear in accordance to the activity.
- Runners should replace sneakers every 300 to 500 miles.
- Create exercise routines to include low impact exercises, such as cycling and swimming.
- Perform exercises regularly to build up resistance.
- Change up your exercise routine to avoid running daily.
- Use ice packs or cold compresses on sore muscles after exercising.
- Avoid walking or running on hard surfaces.
- Always start new exercises slowly, gradually building up to an appropriate level of intensity.
- Orthotics can be used for those with flat feet or arch issues.
- Lose weight if overweight.
- Avoid smoking.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
Shin splint exercises before and after workouts and even simple walks may be the best methods for those wondering how to prevent shin splints. Pain in the front of the lower leg can come from either overuse or improper use of the muscles.
The muscles, tendons, ligaments, and the tissues can become damaged or injured by everyday movements and strenuous workout regimes. Treat sore shin muscles with rest and compresses along with stretching and strengthening exercises.
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