You might think that shin pain happens to runners, but this issue can happen to anyone who has recently intensified their level of physical activity. Shin pain, also known as “shin splints”, is a condition caused by inflammation of the tibialis posterior muscle. This muscle runs along the front and inside of the tibia, or “shin bone”.
How does the tibialis posterior muscle connect to shin pain?
When running or walking, the foot and ankle go through the movements of pronation and supination. In common terms, pronation is flattening of the arch of the foot, which is a necessary movement to provide shock absorption. Supination refers to the arch of the foot lifting up, required to make the foot and ankle stable when pushing off.
The tibialis posterior muscle helps to produce the movement of supination but also helps to brake or decelerate the motion of pronation during walking or running. Several factors can contribute to overuse and inflammation of tibialis posterior:
- Worn out footwear – A walking or running shoe helps to provide support for the foot and ankle. When a shoe starts to break down there can be more pronation of the foot and ankle which means the tibialis posterior muscle has to work harder.
- Tight calf muscles – When the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg are tight, they limit ankle range of motion and cause an increased amount of foot pronation. This forces the tibialis posterior muscle to work harder to work against this tight muscle group.
- Weak hip and core muscles – Foot and ankle pronation results in inward rotation of the lower leg. Muscles higher up the leg also control the amount of inward rotation that occurs at the ankle.
How to treat shin splits at home
If you think you have shin splints, follow these guidelines:
- Rest the inflamed tissue by finding an activity that involves less weight bearing through your leg, such as cycling or swimming
- Ice the inflamed area for 15-20 minutes, several times per day
- Wear shoes indoors to rest and protect the inflamed tissue
- If your shoes are between 6-12 months old, consider investing in a new pair
You can also try some stretches and strengthening exercises:
- Perform calf stretching exercises to improve ankle range of motion
- Perform strengthening exercise for tibialis posterior, such as an ankle inversion with a towel
- Perform strengthening exercises for the hip girdle and the core muscles, like a clamshells or squats
When in doubt, seek help from a professional
Most cases of shin splints can be treated with rest and other self-care measures, but you can consult a healthcare professional such as a physiotherapist, chiropodist, or pedorthist to evaluate your condition, assess your gait, and develop a personalized treatment plan for further guidance and intervention as needed.
This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Meg Smith, Physiotherapist at Stonetown Physiotherapy & Sports Injuries Clinic.