What a pain in the leg! Dealing with shin problems (revisited)
Having recieved a new influx of questions regarding this topic, I thought I’d post this post again…
Ever since I started skating for derby I have either suffered or known someone (many people) to suffer from shin problems.
The other thing that I have come to know is that most people band about the phrase ‘shin splits’ but don’t actually know much about them or what they actually are. In reality, the term ‘shin splints’ seems to be used for any pain experienced within the locality of the shin area whether it actually is shin splits or not. Consequently, when different people say they have shin splints it could mean one (or more) of a number of things.
This post is going to look at different kinds of shin problems people can experience, the possible causes and some of the things that you can do to ease / prevent the problem.
Note:This does not replace the need to visit a doctor or physio if you are concerned and if you do have any problems that affect your physical movement you should consult a professional.
Types of shin problems
There are two basic types of pain that people refer to as ‘shin splints’.
The first is a pain along the actual shin bone that generally starts to hurt when you begin exercise and may wear off during the exercise or when you stop exercising. Sometimes, however, the bone may ache afterwards as well, depending on how far along the shin splints are / how long you have been suffering with them. This kind of shin pain usually comes from ‘impact’ type exercise and a lot of runners will have experienced this at one time or another. It can, however, also be a result of prolonged suffering with the other type of shin problem.
The second type of pain that people tend to experience is felt along the muscle next to the shin bone (tibialis anterior).
The muscle gets very tight and hard and you will generally have very little or no movement of the ankle. When this happens, you need to stop and let the feeling subside and wait until you can rotate your ankle without any pain or resistance. Do not try to stretch the muscle until it has fully relaxed again.
Causes of shin pain
Shin pains can be caused through impact (running / jumping / hopping, etc.), undue pressure on the muscles or ligaments around the shins or ankles and, strangely enough, by moving your exercise regime up too quickly.
The latter point is due to the sheath around your muscle not having time to stretch as your muscle grows. This means that once you start exercising and the blood vessels in your tibialis anterior start to pump more blood, your muscle then becomes restricted by the sheath in which it is contained.
Undue pressure on muscles can be the result of several factors: not having built enough strength up in your ankles, ill fitting shoes or skates (too loose or too tight!) or socks or shin pads that are restricting your muscles. This in turn can cause the muscles and ligaments around the shin to pull on the bone and cause pain that way.
What can be done?
Don’t worry! To avoid or alleviate shin pains there are several things that you can do to strengthen, stretch and protect the joints, ligaments and muscles around your shins.
Firstly, if you have the pain along the bone: STOP! You need to take a rest period, apply lots of ice and give yourself at least a few weeks for your bones to repair themselves. It is probably best to visit a doctor to get an accurate idea of how long and an assessment of whether or not there may be other problems. Prolonged activity with this kind of shin problem can lead to stress fractures and this is something that you want to avoid, or be absolutely sure has healed before you begin training again.
If the pain is in the muscle you may need to keep it warm or keep it cold depending on what your doctor says. Also, it is probably worth trying out an ankle support for a while until you get some extra strength in them.
Doing heel raises on a daily basis will help to strengthen the muscles around the ankle and calf and will eventually remove the undue pressure placed on the shin.
- Stand with your toes and balls of your feet on the edge of a step.
- Drop your heels down below the step.
- Lift yourself up onto the balls of your feet (like ‘going on tip toes’)
- Repeat 20-30 times
Alphabet toes - this will strengthen your ankles - again, to do on a daily basis. If after a while you want to build the strength up even more you can do this with your skates on to add a bit of weight / resistance.
- Sit on a chair with your legs raised off the ground in front of you.
- Trace the alphabet all the way through with your toes on both feet (or you could do one at a time)
Skipping - can be done with or without a skip rope. Again, this will strengthen your ankles and can be worked into any off skate fitness workouts.
Make sure you rotate you ankles before every training session, especially before skating!!
- Rotate both ankles in both directions at least 10 times.
When warming up on skate do lots of mini slaloms.
- This will warm your ankles up properly and prepare them for stretching!
Incorporate shin stretches into your post warm up stretch routine.
- Kneel on the floor and sit with your bum on top of your heels.
- Once you have relaxed into that stretch, you can place your hands behind you and gradually lean backwards in the kneeling position to increase the stretch.
- When you start doing this stretch, be careful not to over stretch as your muscles won’t be used to this position yet. Instead, gradually build up how far back you lean.
- Do not do this stretch if the muscle feels contracted or hard. Wait for the pain to pass and only stretch once you can do full ankle rotations without any pain or resistance.
Massage of the tibialis anterior gradually upwards from the ankle to knee can help stretch the sheath around the muscle and help the muscle recover after sessions where it has been hurting. Make sure you use oils to avoid any friction!
- Make sure you have skates that fit.
- Bespoke skates are very expensive so if you get standard order skates (like a lot of people do) it is some times enough to wear an extra pair of socks to make your feet stable in your skates.
- Keep an ankle support in your kit bag - just in case!
- Spend some time making sure your skate lace set up is right. You will find that different skaters prefer different lace set ups so spend some time talking to your league mates.
- Investigate insoles. Visiting an orthopaedic footwear specialist may seem costly but it will be worth it in the long run. You may need heel or arch support, or even just some extra cushioning.
Deborah Miller Palmore - Basketball Olympian
Pretty much sums up my feelings of playing with my Tiger Bay buddies at 2013 A Skate Odyssey! What a freakin’ excellent weekend!!!
So so so impressed by jamming from Auld Reekie’s Admiral Attackbar and Bear City’s Master Blaster. Some truly breath taking moments have occurred in the games from the last two days.
*smiles and sighs*
(Or in most cases in the UK - ‘the unwitting woman’)