Chronic medial tibia stress-syndrome (MTSS) better known to the world as “shin splints” (SS) is a debilitating condition that anyone who’s suffered it would probably not wish on their worst enemy.
It is recognized as an unrelenting pain on either your posterior tibialis muscle or your anterior tibialis muscle. These are long muscles that connect with the knee and ankle and act as stabilizing muscles for your lower leg and ankle. Different people report pain in different areas but the mechanism is generally the same.
Also known as runner’s shin, shin splints will generally plague underdeveloped or overworked lower-leg muscles. Many activities can be at the root of your shin splints but most of the time the cause is an excess amount of running.
For those of you suffering from this condition, here are some tips to help. I have endured SS my entire young adult and adult life, and I’ve learned a thing or two from all manner of sports-related experts.
1: Running –
Runner’s shin can strike you far more often if you are continuing the practice of several poor running techniques. Running on hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete is sometimes the biggest contributor. Running with poor technique can also play a factor. Also, this is just a personal theory, but spending long periods of childhood and teenage development without significant use of the legs could lead to an underdeveloped muscular structure.
2: Stretching –
There have been several times in my life where I have been able to dispel the chronic nature of my SS with stretching and strengthening exercises. I perform 5 exercises in total every morning when I wake up with SS pain.
- Calf Stretches. I like to place the ball of my foot flat against a wall and gently lean my body forward, stretching the back of my calf.
- Ankle Circles. I try and do 20 going in each direction.
- Calf Raises. At first, I would just do a simple calf raise while standing on a flat floor, but over time I started to do them on a step, first letting my heels drop below the step, and raising myself up the extra inches.
- Ankle Extensions. I’ll curl my toes and place them on the floor and push my foot forward, stretching the front of my calf.
- Ankle Curls. For this, I built a homemade stretching machine that I’ve used for many years. It consists of two Bungie cables wrapped around the leg of a piano or an equally unmovable object, the other end hooking a simple wooden drumstick which I place on top of my toes, and use my feet to curl the stick upward, stretching both the Bungie cords and my anterior tibialis.
3: Treatment –
If you clearly feel the pain of SS, I have some bad news. To fully recover, I find that you have to take at LEAST 3 weeks off of all running or kicking based activities. Stretching twice a day will speed the process up, as well as significantly cold baths (I took an ice bath after every soccer game). More and more I’m also realizing that a dry heat sauna is about as effective as the cold for muscle recovery, and if you did all four of these suggestions together, you might be back sooner than 3 weeks.
4: Equipment –
One of the most important parts of running is finding the right footwear or the right pair of sports shoes. Perhaps, more importantly, is your inserts. Getting an insert with significant arch support is more crucial than anything related to your heel or ball.
5: Mentality –
Over the last 7 years, even when I’m in serious pain, I always try to stay positive and imagine the future results of all my work. It’s super important to stay positive while in an SS bout.
6: Barefoot Running –
I’ve always believed that one should seek to strengthen the tibialis muscles so as to keep SS at bay during mild trauma like working in a restaurant. One way I have done this is SLOWLY adopting the habit of ultralight or barefoot running. I have several different shoes and padded socks and I have spent many years – again, SLOWLY – building up the strength in and around my foot and ankle by adopting the traditional running style which humans evolved to perform over millions of years. Many spectacular running cultures, like the Kenyans, still run like this today. There is too much to say about this topic so you better do some research of your own. Keep in mind I am anything but a doctor and you should always seek medical attention if you’re experiencing chronic or debilitating pain which you don’t understand.