By Dylan Tannyan
Shin splints are a common issue that can be tackled by physiotherapists. It presents as pain along the bone in the lower leg, usually exacerbated by walking, running, jumping, or any type of impact activity. But what exactly are shin splints and what are some ways to avoid them?
The term shin splints is often used to encompass any pain in the shin. However, true “shin splints” normally involve one or both of the following muscles (and their tendons/connective tissue): tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior.
Both muscles run along the length of the tibia, with the tibialis anterior muscle running along the antero-lateral (front/outside) portion of the bone and the tibialis posterior muscle on the medial (inside) portion of the bone. This is why some people will have pain along the inside of their shin, some people will have pain along the front/outside of their shin, and some people get pain along both areas.
To keep things simple, both of these muscles are important for absorbing impact/load and resisting pronation (where the arch of the foot and the ankle splay inwards to disperse force). Pronation often gets a bad reputation but this motion is absolutely necessary for ideal function when walking, running, or basically anything we do on our feet.
Pronation is not a bad thing, however it is important to control the motion with our muscles and when this doesn’t go well, that’s when problems can occur.
If the tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior aren’t as strong as they need to be for the activity, or if someone increases their activity and loading more than the muscles can accommodate, then shin splints can rear their ugly head.
There are other factors that will affect the loading of the foot and lower limb which a physiotherapist can assess and address. But here, we are going to go over two simple exercises that are safe for most people to start on their own that will help strength the tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior muscle.
Secure a band to a stable object and while seated wrap the other end of the band to the top of your foot. Before starting, make sure you move far enough back to add tension to the band. Bring your toes/foot up toward your shin against the resistance of the band and slowly lower back to the starting position. Complete 10 repetitions x 3 sets, daily.
While seated, cross one foot over the opposite thigh and wrap the band around both feet. It is important to keep the foot and toes pointed throughout this exercise to activate the appropriate muscle. Raise your foot up in a “scooping” motion against the resistance of the band while keeping the toes pointed. Slowly lower back to the starting position. Complete 10 repetitions x 3 sets, daily.
These exercises can be done more often than prescribed above, especially if you find them helpful for reducing pain.
This is general information that is not meant to replace the assessment and specific advice of a registered physiotherapist.
Dylan is a Toronto based registered physiotherapist who enjoys working with a wide range of patients whose goals range from chronic pain improvement to sport and high performance. He also specializes in vestibular and concussion rehabilitation. He utilizes a mix of specific exercise prescription, manual therapy, dry needling, and education with two main objectives: outcome and efficiency. Dylan wants all of his patients to reach their functional goals as well as have the confidence, education, and physical tools to manage their injury over the long term. Dylan currently works out of Synergy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in East York and has limited homecare appointment availability. If you are looking for a physiotherapist you can book with him HERE or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org