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Massage Therapy for Shin Splints

by Patty Weasler, RN November 22, 2019 0 Comments

Targeted shin splint massages are a safe and effective way to reduce pain, swelling, and achieve an overall sense of relaxation. If you suffer from shin splints, massage is one treatment option that can release muscle knots and speed up healing time. It’s done by a trained massage therapist or by self-massage in your home. Keep reading to learn more about this treatment method and how it can benefit you.

How Massage Therapy Helps Shin Splints

Massage can help some of the largest causes of shin splints like tight calf muscles. By placing increased stress on the lower leg and bones, tight calf muscles should be treated to prevent shin splints. Also, the constant pounding of running or other activities causes inflammation in the connective tissues that attach the shin bone to the muscles. 

Massage will work on these connective tissue spots where adhesions have formed. Through different massage techniques, a trained massage therapist or you will be able to release tightness and increase blood flow to the area. All of which will help improve healing time.

Massage Techniques for Shin Splints

There are many kinds of massage therapy and each type has its place in treating both anterior and medial shin splints. Anterior shin splints are on the front of the shin bone where the tibialis anterior muscle is located. This muscle works to lift and lower your foot.

The second kind of shin splints, the posterior or medial shin splint, is near the tibialis posterior muscle. This muscle works on the medial side of your foot as you walk or run. If this muscle is weakened your foot will overpronate causing stress on the bone. With the medial shin splint, pain is felt on the side of your shin bone.

Learn More About Massage Techniques, Tips & Tools Here

Deep Tissue Massage

During a deep tissue massage, the therapist presses deep into the soft tissue to release muscle knots. These knots are not necessarily located near your shin splint. Some people find the deep pressure to be uncomfortable. Let your massage therapist know if the pressure becomes too much, you should not experience pain.

Myofascial Release

A myofascial release massage aims to find tight areas in the muscle fascia, the tissue that surrounds muscles. Tight areas will feel stiff and through muscle stretching and massaging you’ll release tension and tightness, providing deep pain relief, and preventing the buildup of scar tissue.

Use a muscle roller stick or massage roller ball at home to self-massage your muscles and achieve the full myofascial release experience that you would get in a massage therapy office.

Trigger Point Massage

Trigger point massage uses pressure to relieve tension within the trigger points in the body. It can be difficult to find a single trigger point that is causing pain, so a massage therapist will apply pressure to multiple spots to help you find relief. A massage cane allows users to target trigger points in hard-to-reach areas on the leg.

Sports Massage

This form of massage focuses on areas of the body that suffer from an overuse injury and stress. The massage therapist will target muscle-tendon junctions, increasing flexibility to lessen the risk of injury. Sports massage can be especially effective when used in combination with stretches and exercise for shin splints.

TENS Therapy

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses low-voltage electrical currents that pass through adhesive patches placed on the skin over the area that is experiencing pain. The electrical impulse interrupts the nerve pathway, reducing pain. Pain relief is temporary but typically successful and aids in reducing medication use. TENS therapy can be applied by a chriopractic or physical therapy professional or small, at home units can be purchased for personal use

Cold Massage

The cold causes vasoconstriction, the tightening up of blood vessels, reducing blood flow. It is best done on a recent injury. Tightened blood vessels cause less inflammation and muscle spasms. Cold also reduces pain by disrupting the nerve signal. Cold massage ball rollers are designed to apply ice massage at home or work.

Learn more about using cold therapy for shin splints here.

Performing Self-Massage at Home

Going to a massage therapist is one way to get a shin splint massage, but it isn’t always possible for everyone. Home self-massage is a great option that can be done with minimal expense and on your own time. Here are a few massage techniques to help you manage shin splint pain.

Deep Tissue Massage with a Massage Roller

An easy way to self-massage for shin splints is with a foam roller or roller stick over your Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Here’s step by step instructions on the proper foam rolling technique.

  1. Sit down on a hard surface like the floor.
  2. Place the foam roller or roller stick under your Achilles tendon.
  3. Slowly roll the roller up and down your lower leg, pressing deep into the tissue.
  4. After rolling your Achilles tendon, roll up and down the medial or inside of your calf.
  5. Lastly, foam roll the lateral or outside of your calf. Making sure to move slowly and pressing deep into the tissue.

Foam Rolling for Shin Splints

Trigger Point Massage with a Lacrosse Ball

Using a lacrosse ball to release shin splint trigger points can be done in the comfort of your own home. Here’s how to use one.

  1. While sitting on the ground, press the lacrosse ball into your calf muscle right where the muscle meets your shin bone.
  2. Avoid pressing the lacrosse ball into bone, roll the lacrosse ball up and down the medial and lateral side of your calf focusing on tight or tender areas of the muscle.
  3. Roll each side of the calf for one minute.

How to Perform Sports Massage

Performing a sports massage is great before or after a workout. Follow these instructions to make the most of an at-home sports massage.

  1. Use the effleurage massage technique by performing light, stroking massage to either side of the shin bone to cover as much muscle as possible.
  2. Start at the bottom of the lower leg, moving upward towards the knee.
  3. If you come across a muscle knot, use small cross friction massage to the area to release the knot.

How Often Should You Massage?

If you suffer from leg pain that has been diagnosed as shin splints then you’ll want to massage it regularly. Working on the muscle fibers and fascia every day for five to 10 minutes will reduce pain and tightness. Combine massage with rest, an NSAID like ibuprofen, and cold and heat therapy for even better results. Expect full rehabilitation to take three to 12 weeks.

Alternating Hot & Cold Therapy for Injuries

When to Avoid Massage

Not all shin pain can be treated with massage. It’s important to determine that your pain is in fact caused by shin splints and not a different condition. Two conditions that can mimic shin splint pain are stress fractures and compartment syndrome. You could cause serious damage by massaging your leg if you have one of these conditions. Talk to your doctor to get a firm diagnosis.

Compartment Syndrome

Compartment syndrome happens when muscles swell and the fascia surrounding it becomes too tight. This leads to a decrease in blood flow within the muscle and if not resolved quickly can lead to a medical emergency. Compartment syndrome can be transient, symptoms will begin about 10 minutes into exercise and dissipate 30 minutes after exercise. If you are experiencing similar symptoms talk to your doctor.

Stress Fracture

A stress fracture is a small crack or multiple small cracks that happen after the muscles attached to the tibia repeatedly pull at the bone and weaken it over time. The pain of a stress fracture is localized, only in one spot on the leg. Unlike shin splints that are usually tender all the way down the lower leg. The second symptom of a stress fracture is that you’ll experience less pain in the morning. Whereas a shin splint will still hurt after you wake up. Talk to your doctor to determine if you have a stress fracture for an x-ray and correct diagnosis.

In the initial stages of recovery, icing can be an effective way to manage the pain of stress fractures.

Safe & Effective Shin Splint Massage

Massage is a safe and effective option for shin splints. It can be done with minimal tools at home or with a massage therapist in their clinic. Whichever route you choose, working on leg pain caused by shin splints can help you get back to running and all the other activities you love doing.



Next Pages:

Icing Shin Splints
Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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