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How to Get Rid of Shin Splints

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT November 22, 2019 0 Comments

Woman using cold roller on shin

Home Treatments

With the right tools and knowledge, chances are you will complete most of your shin splint treatment in the comfort of your own home. Here are some simple and effective home solutions that you can start using immediately.

Stretches and Exercise

Aside from prevention, controlled stretches and exercise can help the recovery process. Stretches will focus on relieving pain and promoting blood flow to sore, stiff areas in the lower legs. Generally, the calf and shin are good places to start. Strengthening will also promote circulation while restoring balance to the foot and ankle for properly accepting the stress that comes with weight-bearing activity.

Shin Splint Exercises and Stretches

Massage and Foam Rolling

Massage can be a great option for recovering, whether it’s from a professional, from a loved one, or self-administered. For self-massage, a foam roller is a great tool for pain relief, decreasing swelling, and promoting circulation and healing. Foam rolling is particularly useful on stiff, sore muscles. Focus areas include the tibialis anterior (the front of the shin) and calves. Foam rolling can be intense for a new injury, so proceed with caution and choose the best options for you. There are also a variety of massage tools that you can try that will be gentler for treatment.

Foam Rolling for Shin Splints

Massage for Shin Splints

Anti-Inflammatory Pain Relievers

Ant-inflammatory pain medication (NSAIDS), such as Aleve and ibuprofen, can provide temporary relief when you have a new injury. They can decrease your pain and swelling enough to be able to tolerate other methods of treatment and maximize the short term recovery process. They should never be used as a long-term option because of the risk of side effects and damage to your organs, such as the kidneys.

R.I.C.E

The most important step in the healing process is taking the time to properly rest. This allows adequate time for the injured and inflamed muscle, shin bone, and other affected connective tissues to heal. Next, consider incorporating the RICE Method--rest, ice, compression, elevation--into your recovery routine. When you are ready, you will be able to gradually return to a normal routine. Also, you should consider getting medical advice to ensure there isn’t something more serious going on, such as a fracture.

Icing

Ice can provide immediate relief for swelling and pain without the inherent risks that come with other options like medication. It can help break the cycle of pain to allow you to tolerate stretching, strengthening, and massage. For the shins, ice massage can provide very localized relief. Ice for 5-20 minutes (with a frozen dixie cup or ice pack), with the goal of achieving pain relief through the numbness.

Icing Shin Splints

Kinesiology Taping

Kinesiology taping, also known as k-taping or Kinesio taping, is a newer treatment option that provides a lot of individualization to your treatment. The tape can provide support, promote specific muscle activation, decrease muscle activation, and decrease swelling. The technique will be different depending on what the end goal is. Ultimately, the tape can help re-establish proper foot and ankle coordination to promote both recovery and future flares of pain. Biofeedback (having awareness of how your body is moving) is the key to proper k-tape use. It will quickly help you realize your issues and how to fix them.

How to Tape Shin Splints

Compression Socks

Compression socks can provide relief for several reasons. The direct pressure from the socks helps provide comfort to irritated muscles and nerves. Additionally, they promote improved blood flow for healing and increase your awareness of your movement (helping you change any bad movement patterns).

Professional Treatment

A doctor's examination can help pinpoint the cause of shin splints, allowing you to find a more specific treatment plan. The right diagnosis is important for proper treatment.

Find a Physical Therapist

Shin splints are typically caused by a combination of factors related to fitness level, and foot and ankle strength, flexibility, and coordination. If one of these areas is out of balance, dysfunction and pain can occur. A physical therapist is specially trained to spot potential imbalances via an in-depth examination of all these factors. Additionally, a full lifestyle assessment will ensure treatment is comprehensive. With the right background information, a well-rounded physical therapy program can be established to recover quickly.

Surgery

Surgery is not an effective treatment option for typical shin splints. However, if it progresses into a more serious issue like compartment syndrome (too much pressure within the muscle connective tissue layers) a fasciotomy may be required. This is an effective way to relieve excessive pressure within the muscle that can lead to significant muscle and nerve damage if left untreated.

How Long Does it Take Shin Splints to Heal?

Recovery time all depends on your current health and severity of the injury. Typically, you can expect a full recovery within 3-6 months. With any tissue injury, it is all about finding a delicate balance between allowing adequate rest time and then gradually re-applying stress to the area when ready. Ultimately, you can use your pain symptoms as a gauge for the proper treatment pace. If you feel unsure, it’s always better to be on the conservative side. If you are getting ready for a competition and are eager to return fully to training, a physical therapist will help accelerate your recovery time and give you the confidence you need to succeed.

Shin Splint Prevention

Those who start an active exercise regimen without prior athletic history are more likely to experience shin pain. When starting a new exercise routine, start slowly and pay attention to how your body is responding. Use your fitness level, general comfort, and amount of soreness as a gauge for how to safely progress. Incorporating exercise gradually always promotes the safest fitness results. Specifically for running, it is common to follow the 10% rule to minimize injury risk (try not to increase daily running mileage by more than 10%).

Prevention options include changing running shoes, getting orthotics, proper cross training, a balanced exercise program and adjusting exercise form (particularly for running).

How to Prevent Shin Splints

Managing Shin Splints Safely and Effectively

If you experience any of the following symptoms, there may be a more serious underlying issue. Make sure to seek medical advice immediately for the following symptoms:

  • Severe shooting pain

    This is a sign of direct nerve, lumbar nerve, or spinal cord damage.

  • Pain at rest with severe palpable pain

    This indicates a potential bone stress fracture.

  • A feeling of tightness in the shin

    Excessive swelling within the muscle fascia layers can cause irreparable damage from compartment syndrome.

  • No pain at rest or with palpation

    These are symptoms of arterial insufficiency.

Finding the Right Treatment Options

Shin splints are a self-perpetuating issue. If you ignore the pain and try to push on, you will most likely need a longer period of rest later. Thus, when you start to notice symptoms take the time to listen to your body. The more self-awareness you have the more quickly you can get back to your exercise routine pain-free.

Sources:

https://www.sports-health.com/sports-injuries/leg-injuries/surgery-shin-splints

https://www.peakendurancesport.com/endurance-training/strength-conditioning-and-flexibility/shin-splints-lower-leg-strengthening-exercises-prevention-treatment/

SHOP SHIN SPLINT PRODUCTS
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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