Updated: Jan 24
Years ago when I was consistently running 10-K races, I recall going through some battles with shin splints. It can be wickedly painful and performance rendering. Today I want to share one of my easy-to-use tricks to help prevent and treat shin splint pain.
Don't worry it's not contagious!
This is the medical term that refers to the inflammation of the periosteum (a membrane that envelopes all bones). It should be taken seriously and treated ASAP. Chronic periostitis can progress to a stress fracture if left untreated.
The typical causes of this inflammation are: - New footwear. - A sudden introduction of a higher intensity of walking, running or jumping in which the body has not been conditioned and prepared for. - You have flat feet or high arches. - Poor biomechanics that predispose the anterior compartment muscles to work overtime. - Chronic over-training.
Anatomy of the Shin
Commonly, shin splints are referring to the symptoms experienced in the anterior compartment of the lower leg. This compartment consists of the following muscles - tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum and extensor hallucis longus.
Whenever I've suffered with shin splints, it has been either from starting to run again, when I haven't for an extended period of time, or an increase in my running intensity through either speed or distance. I've also had it arise when I've power walked over a longer distance.
The reason this is happening is due to the increased demand and repetitions to the dorsiflexors (those muscles inside the anterior compartment), which have to lift the toes in ambulation to prevent foot slap at heel-strike.
Interestingly, since I shifted to more of a barefoot style of running, shin splints have become a non-issue for me.
I talked about barefoot running a few weeks ago in my article Here's What Every Runner Needs to Know About Self-Massage.
Another common inflammatory condition associated with shin splints, is compartment syndrome. Dissecting the leg in the transverse plane - providing a bird's eye view - you can see the lower leg has four compartments which consist of muscles, blood vessels and nerve tissue. Each compartment has a certain amount of capacity or space to expand.
With any edema or swelling this space is quickly used up, increasing intra-compartmental pressure and therefore compressing the blood and nerve tissues. This will feel very painful and the skin will be taut and shiny from the swelling. The affected compartment would also be harder and hotter than the unaffected areas. This would be considered a medical emergency and you should seek out immediate assistance from a physician.
In the early acute stage of this type of pain, you can prevent yourself from having to take an extended leave of absence from your training program by immediately working on simple at-home remedies.
Today's focus is on a simple self-massage method to help relieve the build-up of tension and pressure in the anterior compartment.
To further complement my self-massage trick here are my top 3 choices for self-care:
1. Stretch Particularly the foot, ankle, calf, hamstrings, quads and gluteals.
2. Contrast Bathing* Using two buckets - one with hot water and one with icy cold water - you would immerse your lower leg up to the knee into a bucket. Hold there for 1-2 minutes before immediately switching to the next bucket. Repeat for 1-2 minutes, back and forth, for 12-16 minutes. This can be done 1-6 times per day. The more symptomatic you are the more frequency you would perform.
*Anyone with a pre-existing heart condition should seek medical advice prior to commencing any form of contrast bathing with hot/cold temperature swings.
3. Put Your Feet Up!
An often undervalued aspect to any training program is suitable REST. Literally putting your feet up can make the difference in lowering inflammation, boosting recovery and allowing muscles to have some much needed time off. To further complement this approach, you can try dry brushing to accelerate your lymphatic movement, which boosts your immune system and reduces swelling.
Any questions, you can reach me at my clinic by phone: 403 589 4645 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please help me on my mission to relieve stress, tension and pain. Share this anyone you know that would benefit from this blog :)
Yours In Muscle Health,
Jason Barlow, RMT.
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