Just about anyone who has ever played high school sports has rubbed a Dixie cup of ice up and down their shins to deal with the painful shin splints. While this is still being prescribed today by many coaches, athletic trainers, and physical therapists, I think that the Dixie cup itself is just as effective in treating shin splints as the actual ice.
There are two types of shin splints – anterior (front of the leg), and posterior (back of the leg). In either case, the shin splints occur from a muscle imbalance between the two. If the tibialis anterior (front muscle) is [neurologically] inhibited (meaning weak), the muscle will easily fatigue when walking or running, causing pain and making it feel as if the shin is “splintering.” (No, it’s not a stress fracture in the tibia or shinbone.) But the weakness can also cause the muscle on the opposite side, the tibialis posterior, to work extra hard to support the foot, so this can cause shin splints in the back of the leg. The story is the same in a vice-versa situation if the muscle in the back of the shin is weak causing the front to work harder.
Gait imbalances are very often seen in athletes as they wear the wrong types of footwear, such as over-supportive and motion-control shoes that don’t allow their foot muscles to behave naturally. Orthotics can also be the cause of shin splints – or later prescribed for the problem only to further alter body mechanics and cause a gait dysfunction. The foot, ankle, and lower leg muscles, tendons, and ligaments fatigue and muscle compensation begins when orthotics and non-minimalist shoes are worn. Some muscles work too hard to compensate, while others don’t work enough, so the pain begins. There’s a close relationship between shin splints and plantar fasciitis; the pain and injury just occurs in a different spot.
Too much physical, dietary, or emotional stress that the body cannot properly adapt to can tax the hormonal system and result in shin splints. Overtraining can result in shin splints – training too often (even aerobically) or too intensely (anaerobic), without adequate rest.
Don’t stretch those tender shin muscles or calves, it won’t help. Rather, look for tender muscle points (“trigger points”) throughout the muscles and rub them out as I show in the following video. Ice will rarely help, other than to numb the pain. So keep your bagged veggies in the freezer and off your legs.
For the Sock Doc Shin Splints Video – click here.