If you started a running program recently and are feeling pain along the side of your shin(s), you could be suffering a condition called medial tibial stress syndrome, commonly referred to as “shin-splints”. Causes of shin-splints range from shoe type to running surface to running technique or “mechanics”. In most cases the explanation is far simpler — muscle imbalance, caused by an overactive calf and an under-active tibialis (muscle next to the shins). These two muscle groups have opposite flexion functions on the foot and ankle. Without getting too scientific, the calf is responsible for plantar flexion (or toe-pointing), which essentially means increasing the angle between the foot and shin. The tibialis is responsible for dorsiflexion, which means decreasing the angle between the foot and shin. There are ways to correct and even prevent this issue. As I’ve said in previous blog entries, don’t be so quick to reach for orthotics, as they have proven to further weaken the problem area(s).
Your first step: STOP RUNNING and put your program on hold or else you risk causing ancillary and even more severe injuries. Your second step: ice and rest the area(s) in pain. While the pain will eventually subside if rested, rest alone is not enough. Shin-splints will flare right back up unless the weak tibialis is strengthened. Your third step: begin your rehab. DON’T DO CALF RAISES while you’re injured. Instead, inhibit the calf by foam rolling and stretching your calves for 10 minutes twice daily. Exercise and activate the tibialis muscles four times a week by performing 3 sets of the following shin-splint rehab exercises:
- use your foot to draw the shape of every letter in the alphabet (in caps)
- use a mini-resistance band and an anchor point to pull your foot back in the direction of the knee (“dorsiflex”), with a 2 second static hold at the top of the dorsiflexed position (15 reps)
- in seated position with your feet on the floor, “tap” your toes by raising and lowering your toes to the floor as you keep your heels on the floor, for as many reps as possible for 30 seconds. That burning sensation is confirmation that you’re doing them properly.
Hang in there — you’ll be back on track soon enough. Your patience and dedication will lead to a full recovery. If the pain persists, get an x-ray to check for stress fracture in your tibia or fibula.
Happy running and jumping!