There is a double-edged that comes with one’s fitness journey. As you gain more fitness, strength and endurance, you feel that you can conquer the world. Therefore, it is just natural to want to do more. Then, the oft-too inevitable occurs: injuries. If you’re a runner, athlete or a dancer, chances are this injury will be in the form of shin splints.
In the article, we will look at what causes shin splints and how to best treat them. We will also talk about some exercises you can do to strengthen your legs and prevent future shin splints.
What are shin splints
Medically and scientifically speaking, shin splints (known as medial tibial stress syndrome) are an inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around the tibia. The tibia is the shin bone, the second largest bone in the body.
In layman’s terms, shin splints are the result of overloading one’s shin bones and the muscles and tendons in the lower part of the leg. They are often the result of overuse or a sudden increase in training and physical movement. Very often, the sufferer has engaged in high-impact activities with repetitive exercise of the lower legs. This is the main reason why it is often runners, dancers and, on occasion, gymnasts who are afflicted with shin splints the most.
RICE, the go-to remedy for shin splints
What’s more annoying than the physical pain of shin splints is probably the time you will be out of training, running or dancing. Shin splints usually last between two to four weeks, and, when you’re an athlete, these days away from your favourite activity is significant. Even if you’re just a fitness enthusiast, weeks of inactivity can set you back physically.
Well it’s not all doom and gloom. The good thing about shin splints is that it’s very likely that you can heal yourself from it. While easier said than done, the very first thing a shin splint sufferer should do is to cease physical activity, especially in the lower legs.
The recommended and universally known procedure for shin splints therapy is the RICE method:
R – Rest
Immediately stop all physical activity. Do not be tempted to “run off” the pain. It will only get worse.
I – Ice
Icing your shins helps to ease pain and swelling. Certain ice packs like the Shin Gel pack by Magic Gel are made specifically for shin splints. These ice packs are flexible and they wrap snugly and perfectly around the shins as they come with adjustable Velcro straps.
Your shins need to be iced for 15-20 minutes every day, every three to four hours for the next two to three days, or until the pain disappears.
C – Compression
Wearing a compression sleeve around your shins after icing them reduces inflammation around the shins. Some ice packs like the Shin Gel pack already have adjustable straps that wrap snugly around your legs, so they can also act as compression sleeves while icing.
E – Elevate
Elevating your legs will reduce blood flow to the area, which will assist in swelling reduction. Find a comfortable position and raise your leg up above or at least at level of your heart. You can prop your leg up with pillows.
Exercises you can do to help prevent shin splints in the future
So, what’s better than healing from shin splints? Preventing them from happening! The best way to do this is to perform strengthening and flexibility exercises.
Medical experts suggest physical exercises as a form of post-RICE care for shin splints for faster recovery. With Magic Gel’s Shin Gel packs, you don’t just get ice packs, you actually get a recovery kit to help you with these exercises. Each Shin Splints Ice Pack come with:
- Two shin ice packs
- 1 medium resistance stretch band
- 1 cryoball for massage therapy
- 1 laminated 10-page exercise instruction guide
The medium resistance band is especially important because this is going to be used for exercises that will strengthen your lower legs and give them enough flexibility so that they will be as shin-splint-free as possible.
You do not need to wait to be full recovered from shin splints to do these exercises. Prevention is better than cure. Many households have multi-use ice packs as part of their medicine cabinet, even if there are no shin splint incidents yet. If you are regularly active , it’s best to have this kit readily available. It helps to also regularly use the cryoball and resistance stretch band to prevent injury.
Exercises for shin splints
Here are some exercises that are good for dealing with shin splints. Most of them will make use of a resistance or stretch band.
Follow these exercises with caution. If you are unsure whether you can perform these exercises, it’s best to first consult your physician.
1. Toe curls
Let’s start with a warm-up and get those feet ready. For this exercise, you will need a small towel and you should be barefoot. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your right foot on top of the towel. Using the toes of your right foot, gather the towel and slowly scrunch it up, pulling it towards you. Complete 10 to 15 repetitions slowly. Do the same with your left foot.
2. Achilles tendon stretch (seated)
For this exercise, you will need a resistance band and an optional yoga or exercise mat.
To start, sit on the floor, bend one knee and put the other leg in front of you with your heel on the floor. Get your resistance band and loop it around the ball of your foot. Holding the ends of the resistance band with both hands, slowly pull your toe towards you. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat this two to four times, and do the same with your other foot.
If you do not have a resistance band, you can use a towel.
3. Anterior tibialis stretch
This exercise is essentially the opposite movement of the above Achilles tendon stretch workout. You will also need a resistance band for this, and something stable, like a table leg, with which you can loop the resistance band.
Sit on the floor or a chair. Secure your resistance band by looping it around something sturdy, like a table leg. Loop the other end of the resistance band around your foot. With your toes facing up, flex your ankle towards you slowly. Return your ankle down slowly again. Do both movements in counts of two and four seconds. Do 10 to 20 repetitions per foot. Do this exercise two to three times daily.
4. Calf stretch
You will be standing up for this exercise, and you will only need a wall.
To start, face the wall, standing about one foot away. Put one foot in front of the other and slowly lean forward. Press your hands unto the wall while keeping your calves straight. You should feel a slight pull from this action. Hold this position for five to eight seconds. Alternate by switching the front foot.
5. Toe drawing
Once your toes and ankles feel a bit loose from the above stretches, try tracing the alphabet with your toes. This will help loosen up the shins.
6. Ankle rotations
You will be seated in this exercise and you will need a resistance band.
Tie your resistance band around the toe or upper foot area. Hold the other end of the resistance band taut with your hands, creating resistance. With your heel placed firmly on the ground, make a big circle with the top of your foot. Try to stretch and point your toes as far away from you as possible. Draw circles in one direction slowly about five times. Switch directions and do it slowly again for five times. Do the same with your other foot.
7. Calf raises
You will be standing for this exercise, and no resistance band is needed.
To begin, stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Very slowly and with control, lift your heels as high as you can and bring them back down. Do this 25 times, three sets altogether.
8. Square monster dance
You will be standing in this exercise and it requires a resistance band.
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your resistance band (tied in a loop) around your thighs. Keep your feet far enough apart to maintain the band’s tension. Step forward with your left foot, and then your right foot. Then step to the left with your left foot, followed by the right foot. Step backwards with your left foot, and then your right foot. Step to the right with your right foot and then your left. It’s like walking in a square with a resistance band around your thighs. Do this slowly and with your legs bent slightly.
Repeat in the opposite direction.
Have you dealt with shin splints before? Do reach out to us as we’d like to hear about your pain relief journey!