Shin splints, also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, is the most common overuse injury among avid runners and multisport athletes. The pain usually occurs gradually and is often the cause of biomechanical irregularities, changes in training, chronic overuse and/or the sudden change in footwear.
In comparison to a tibial stress fracture, a shin splint is usually generalized pain across the lower two-thirds of the tibia (medial shin). The pain from a stress fracture is localized to a specific spot.
Despite not being a ‘serious’ injury, it can be quite debilitating and can develop into a more severe injury if not properly managed.
Based off a literature review published in Current Reviews of Musculoskeletal Medicine, several approaches could be taken by health practitioners and athletes to return to training. On average, it takes roughly seven weeks to recover fully from a shin splint. However, this can vary based on severity.
Rest and Ice
You’ve likely heard this a thousand times, but it’s because it is one of the most cost-effective ways an athlete can increase the likelihood of returning to training. While a complete rest from all activity is unlikely for most individuals, combining ice and rest with other treatment options will speed up the recovery process.
Modify your training routine
Shin splints are commonly associated with running, so use this injury to work on swimming and cycling. Instead of getting bummed out over an injury, change your mindset and start shifting all those running hours over into the pool. Shin splints may be a blessing in disguise.
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Shin splints are caused by overuse of the plantar flexor muscles in your calf – muscles that originate along the posteromedial surface of the tibia (tender to touch). Getting physical therapy will help elevate the pain and correct musculoskeletal imbalances.
Remember, the goal of any manual therapy is to restore normal range of motion of joints, improve symmetry of muscles and soft tissues. Correcting and improving these functions of the hip, knee and ankle joints can improve pain and overall function. Manual therapy may also help prevent the occurrence of such overuse injuries.
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Stretching and strengthening
If you do consult a physiotherapist, chiropractor or sports doctor, make sure you receive guidance on any stretching and strengthening drills you can be doing. Despite you not being able to run or train as effectively as you would like, a prescribed list of drills can help treat and prevent shin splints. Exercises that strengthen the plantar flexors are effective according to the multiple sources. However, strength exercises that focus on developing gluteal, core and hip muscles may be more effective. These types of exercises can help correct muscular imbalances and improve running technique.
Related: Activation drills for triathletes
Orthotics is a preventative option you should consider. In a study of collegiate cross country runners, 16 out 41 athletes were prescribed orthotics. Out of the 16 athletes prescribed orthotics, 14 reported relief or improvement in their symptoms and return to running within four weeks. Another study on long-distance runners found that 70 per cent of those who had shin splints, used or were using orthotics to complement other treatments and reported complete relief or great improvement.
To properly recover and treat shins splints, it is best to consult a certified physiotherapist or sports doctor. Due to the nature of overuse injuries and endurance sports – especially triathlon – athletes are at an increased risk of sustaining these types of injuries. Preventative exercises and therapy sessions should be implemented to help manage the load of training.