How Massage Can Improve the Pain of Shin Splints

How Massage Can Improve the Pain of Shin Splints

If you are a runner or have drastically changed the intensity of your workouts recently, you might experience the painful condition known as Shin Splints.  Medically known as ‘medial tibial stress syndrome’, it is a condition that refers to pain experienced along the tibia or shinbone at the front of the lower leg.


Are you at risk? 

Shin splints develop as a result of repeated stress on the bones, muscles and joints that run from the knee to the ankle. This stress can occur due to strenuous exercise or playing sports that involve sudden stopping and starting motions (basketball, soccer, tennis). Repetitive pounding on pavement or uneven surfaces when running can also be a factor in the condition.  Other contributors can include such issues as weak muscles in the thigh or butt; foot arches that are too high or too low (flat foot); lack of flexibility that causes strain on muscles; and even shoes that don’t fit correctly.

Tired leg muscles and tendons can also increase the likelihood of shin splints during activities.

People who are in the military, dancers are also prone to this painful condition.


Physiology of Shin Splints

Painful shin splints develop as a result of repetitive overworking of the lower leg that causes stress on the muscles and tissues that attach to the shinbone.  If there is swelling of the muscular areas as well, additional pressure on the bone increases the pain and discomfort.

The condition can be worsened from tiny fractures to the bones of the leg that result from constant impact of the leg on hard or uneven surfaces.  These minute fractures require time to heal or they can result in more serious breaks.


Interesting Factoid about Shin Splints:  

The tibialis anterior muscle runs down the side of your shin and is responsible for slowly lifting and lowering your foot as it moves through mobility.  This muscle simultaneously lengthens and brakes action eccentric contraction to be able to keep the foot from dropping heavily on a surface. With prolonged running (for example) on hard surfaces, the tibialis muscle experiences increasing strain, which can intensify the pain and soreness of shin splints.  


You Might Have Shin Splints if you notice:

  • achiness in your shin
  • pain during exercise
  • muscle ache on either side of your shin bone or inner part of your leg
  • pain on the shinbone when lifting just your toes with heel planted on floor
  • mild swelling in lower part of your leg
  • lack of feeling or weakness in your feet


Massage and Other Treatments 

One of the first treatments for shin splints is to stop physical activities (for about two weeks) to give your leg a chance to heal on its own. Less stressful activities such as walking or swimming can be engaged during the healing time.

Other recommended protocols include:

  • Elevating the leg,
  • applying ice to any swelling,
  • using OTC anti-inflammatories,
  • supporting the leg with compression bandages
  • In rare cases, surgery may have to be performed in order to release the fascia around the calf muscles and relieve the pain of shin splints


Massage as an effective treatment: 

Massage treatment can reduce pain and swelling as well as encourage greater flexibility and circulation to the lower leg area.  In the case of shin splints, the shinbone is not involved in the protocols. Instead, there are light, then progressively more pressured movements applied to the muscles and tissues at the side and back compartments of the lower leg that attach to the shinbone.

NOTE: Consult a physician if the symptoms do not resolve or your shin feels hot or is extremely swollen or the pain continues even when you are resting.


Preventative Practices:

  • Wear supportive and well-fitting shoes that have cushioned insoles and arch supports
  • Avoid hard or uneven terrain for exercise
  • Slowly build the intensity of your exercise regimen
  • include warm ups and stretches before beginning any exercise
  • Incorporate lower leg and calf muscles strength training in your exercise
  • Include regular massage to release muscle and improve overall flexibility
  • Ensure exercise routines are varied to give muscle groups recovery time

Shin splints are very treatable conditions that rest, restraint and massage can support.

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