Now that many of us are staying at home to protect the NHS and saves lives I am finding that I am receiving calls from people who are now taking advantage of exercising EVERY day and who may not have walked or run before, or at least not so regularly or as far and are starting to experience issues with shin splints. This is a catch-all term for lower leg pain.
Whilst exercise is always recommended to keep us fit and healthy both in body and mind, suddenly increasing the level of exercise or intensity can be counterproductive, so as always, I would advise that you build up gradually and try to vary the type of exercise you undertake so as not to continually exert stress and pressure on the same muscle groups, tendons, ligaments, and joints.
Usually, with most types of exercise, we advise to have some rest days in between in order for your body to recover, however, I appreciate that in this current situation the temptation is that you may feel you have to get out of the house for fresh air and make the most of the time you have. You can still do this but make sure you are taking time to warm up before you go and stretch off the muscles when you return. There should be absolutely no excuse for not having time to do this now. It is really important or what will happen is you will become injured and as you cannot currently come for a sports massage, you will then not be able to get out and about, which would be far from ideal.
So what are SHIN SPLINTS and how do they arise?
Shin splints, not to be confused with STRESS FRACTURES or ANTERIOR COMPARTMENT SYNDROME, which are more serious conditions, usually arise when you do exercise like running or brisk walking but can occur in any athlete, tennis players, and dancers, to name but a few. Normally this happens when you have put too much stress on your leg and have started exercising after not being active for some time, especially on hard surfaces and with walkers and runner, steeper gradients. It can also be down to a poor running technique or not having adequate supportive footwear. You will feel pain, tightness, and tenderness along the front and sometimes sides of your lower leg (shin). Trying to flex your ankle can feel incredibly painful. The muscles involved here are the Tibialis Anterior and the Peroneals but very often the entire calf can feel leaden and tight, so your Gastrocnemius and Sartorious muscles are also involved, which then can put stress on your Achilles tendon. This can then lead to another condition called PLANTAR FASCIITIS. (Pain on the sole of the foot)
I myself have been walking every day and much further than normal to take full advantage of my once a day exercise of approximately an hour. I know I am guilty of not warming up properly so I need to listen to my own advice. I am finding that I sometimes experience the feeling of shin splints during the first half of my walk and then it eases off. It comes on gradually and then can intensify to the point its absolute agony. Stopping to stretch the entire lower leg, rotating my ankles (Circumduction), pointing my toes (Plantar Flexion) and taking my toes up towards my knee (Dorsiflexion) helps greatly, as do calf stretches against a wall or fence post. What this does is improve the circulation to the lower leg, helps to distribute any lactic acid build-up and in turn loosens off the tight muscles. I’ve also found that varying my route helps and if you can walk on some softer surfaces as well as not doing too much uphill work, then this can help immensely too.
If the symptoms persist then you must listen to your body and rest. Don’t continue with the exact same exercise that’s causing the issue. Normally I would suggest cross-training but I appreciate during this time we are restricted somewhat with what we can do; take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain, assuming you are not allergic to either of these. You can also put an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel on your shin for 10 mins, every 3 hours or so. A good stretch to do at home is to kneel on the floor, make sure you are on a mat or towel if the floor is not carpeted, keeping your legs and feet together with your toes pointing backwards, gradually lean back until you are sitting on your calves and heels whilst pushing your ankles into the floor. You should feel a nice stretch in your shins but you will also be stretching your Quadriceps on the front of your thighs too. Hold for no more than 12 seconds, relax and repeat.
Always return to exercise gradually to remain injury free.
REMEMBER TO EXERCISE RESPONSIBLY AT THIS TIME. IT’S A PRIVILEDGE WE HAVE CURRENTLY THAT MANY OTHERS DO NOT. PLEASE DON’T TAKE ADVANTAGE BY GOING OUT FOR HOURS ON END. SOCIALLY DISTANCE. PROTECT THE NHS, LOVED ONES AND FRIENDS AND SAVE LIVES.