Shin splints, the catch-all term for lower leg pain that occurs below the knee either on the front outside part of the leg (anterior shin splints) or the inside of the leg (medial shin splints), are the bane of many athletes, runners, tennis players, even dancers.
They often plague beginning runners who do not build their mileage gradually enough or seasoned runners who abruptly change their workout regimen, suddenly adding too much mileage, for example, or switching from running on flat surfaces to hills.
Common causes of shin splints
There can be a number of factors at work, such as overpronation (a frequent cause of medial shin splints), inadequate stretching, worn shoes, or excessive stress placed on one leg or one hip from running on cambered roads or always running in the same direction on a track. Typically, one leg is involved and it is almost always the runner’s dominant one.
Flat feet can increase stress on lower leg muscles during exercise.
- sharp and razor-like or dull and throbbing
- Occur both during and after exercise
- aggravated by touching the sore spot
To relieve pain, your physical therapist may prescribe:
- Rest from the aggravating activity or exercise
- Icing the tender area for 5-10 minutes, 1-3 times a day
- Exercises to gently stretch the muscles around the shin
- Taping the arch of the foot or the affected leg muscle.
To help strengthen weak muscles, your physical therapist may prescribe:
- Exercises that increase hip rotation, abduction (lifting the leg away from the other leg), and extension (lifting the leg behind your body) to decrease stress to the lower leg
- Exercises that increase arch and shin muscle strength to decrease the overpronation (flattening out) of the arch of the foot.
- Calf and foot muscle stretches
- Single-leg exercises including squats, reaching exercises, or heel raises
- Modified take off and landing techniques for jumping athletes
- Modified leg and foot control during walking and running
- New footwear to provide better support when walking or exercising.