Shin splints is the name of a condition that often afflicts runners. Here, pain is felt in the shins whenever running or walking long distances, which is often experienced as a shooting pain through the front of the lower leg. It’s a frustrating condition because it can prevent further running, thus ending a training routine or your enjoyment of a hobby.
Fortunately, there are various ways we can treat, prevent and mitigate shin splints. Many people will try to do this by reducing impact when they run: by using special orthotics for instance, or by sticking mostly to the grass. Often though, shin splints are actually better treated and prevented by training and by focussing on muscle rather than the bone.
Introducing the Tibialis Anterior
On the front of your shin you see, you have a muscle called the ‘tibialis anterior’. The role of this muscle is to pull the toes upwards towards the shins. This is a muscle we rarely pay much attention to then, seeing as we are rarely required to use that specific movement, and seeing as it would be quite difficult to train anyway.
Instead, we tend to focus primarily on the calves which are the muscles working in opposition to the tibialis in order to point the foot when we go on tip-toes. The calves are also the muscles we use when jumping, when walking on tip-toes and when doing all kinds of other things.
What this can sometimes lead to is an imbalance. If we train the calves too much and the tibialis not enough, this can result in an uneven pressure on the ankles and ultimately cause the tibialis to become pulled, torn or sprained.
The solution is to start training the tibialis, which you will often find results in your shin splints going away.
How to Train the Tibialis Anterior
In order to train the tibialis anterior, you have a number of options, which are as follows.
Toe Curls: Place your feet underneath a dumbbell or a barbell, or rest a weight plate on top of your foot. Now raise the toes upwards, lifting the weight up on top.
Toe Curls (Self Resistance): A more practical way to perform toe curls is to stand on the end of one foot with the other, push down on it, and then pull against that force with your shins by raising your foot as much as possible.
Reverse Calf Press: For this you will need a leg press machine (which is the one where you sit in a seat and push the weight away from you using both feet). Normally you would perform a calf raise by keeping your legs fully extended and pushing the weight away with only your toes. In this case though, you are instead going to start with your feet hanging over the edge and only the heels pushing the weight. Start with the feet pointing forward, then dip them in order to point forwards, letting the weights move slightly as your heels come towards you. Now when you pull your toes up, your heel will push back out and this will cause the weight to move upwards again.
Heel Walking: Try walking around on your heels for a while, keeping your feet pointing upwards as you do. Eventually you will start to notice a burn in your tibialis.
Running: Running also trains the tibialis, and especially running up-hill. Once you’ve begun to rehabilitate, getting back out there might be one of the best things you can do to speed up recovery.
Always check with a doctor first however: if you have in fact suffered a stress fracture, then rest will be the better treatment and further exercise might just exacerbate the problem.