Shin splints are an injury that most Ultimate athletes will come across at least once in their career. They are extremely annoying and, if not rehabbed properly, can be a real hindrance as you try to pick up speed and fitness during your season.
What are shin splints?
HealthDirect defines shin splints as: a term for pain felt anywhere from along the shinbone from knee to ankle. Shin splints are caused by an inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your tibia.
There are two types of shin splints. The less serious is medial tibial stress syndrome
which is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your shinbone, or tibia. It is caused by muscle strain where the muscle joins the shinbone. The second is the more intense which is caused by muscle pulling on the shinbone, eventually causing the bone to crack.
Shin splints can be caused by a multitude of things like: poor running form, inflexibility, bad ankles, incorrect foot posture (over pronation), bad shoes and over use.
I’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer from shin splits for the majority of my time playing frisbee and have learned to integrate some of the below prevention exercises into my day to day routine.
First let’s take a quick look at how to treat shin splints. I’m not a doctor, but these are methods that have worked for me in the past.
Rest - this may seem basic, but returning to running too soon after realising you have shin splints will just result in them coming back, halting your progress again. Be conservative and take the appropriate amount of time to allow your body to recover.
Ice/anti-inflams - sports science is a bit divided at the moment about the benefits of reducing inflammation in terms of recovery but I’ll include here anyway. Icing for 15-20 minutes 3 x per day and taking anti inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, will help reduce the pain and swelling.
Rolling and stretching your calves - often shin splints are caused by tightness in your calves. Roll and stretch both calves, multiple times a day to improve recovery time.
Once you are pain free it’s time to begin your prevention work and bullet-proof your lower legs. If you are a regular sufferer of shin splints then I’d suggest consistently doing these movements (even after you’ve recovered) to build strength and flexibility in your lower legs and avoid them coming back.
If you experience shin pain when running, it may be because of weak anterior tibialis muscles, which are on the front side of your lower leg. You can strengthen this muscle by doing either standing (harder) or seated (easier) toe raises.
For standing toe raises, simply stand on a ledge or step with your toes hanging off the edge. Allow them to descend as far as they can while you hold a wall or railing, then dorsiflex your foot by bringing your toes as far up towards your knee as you can. Hold at the top for three seconds then lower. Do three sets of around twelve, or however long it takes for you to get that sweet, sweet burn. Seat toe raises are exactly the same, but can be done from a flat floor while at work or watching TV. If you take one exercise away from this article, let this be it. Toe raises will really help prevent your shin splints from returning.
I went to see the Sydney Swans podiatrist recently who advised me, among other things, that a good measure of calf strength for athletes was the ability to bash out 30 single-leg calf raises in a row on each leg. Give it a try, I’d wager it’s harder than you think. This one is very easy to do while watching TV, working at a standing desk or in between sets at the gym. Do both bent and straight-knee variations to ensure you’re hitting all areas of your calves. Remember to take your time in the extension phase (push up fast, and lower slowly) to get the best value from this exercise.
Rolling your feet
As Ultimate athletes, our feet take a real bashing. Weekend long tournaments of continuous running are torture for your feet. Tension in your feet can also result in calf tightness. Using a lacrosse ball or massage ball to roll out any kinks in your feet is a great way of relieving this tension. Simply place the ball on the floor and roll your foot over it, using your body weight to apply pressure when you find a painful or tight area. Bonus: it feels great!
Regularly change your runners and cleats
This is a life-saving tip if you’re like me and want to eek every ounce of value out of your shoes, literally running them into the bin. Keeping your shoes past their used-by date may be great for your wallet but, it’s not so good for your body. Shoes and cleats lose their padding and support over time, resulting in more and more impact being felt through your legs.
Running shoes especially tend to wear out in line with imperfections in your step. If you look at your shoes now, and the heel is worn out more on the inside, it’s likely you have flat feet (over pronation) and wearing on the soles of your shoes is encouraging your ankles to bend that way. Similarly, grab your cleats at the toe and heel and twist both hands in the opposite direction. If you’ve had those cleats for a few seasons and can easily bend the base plate, they have probably lost their structure integrity and won’t be supporting your feet in the way they need. It might be time for a replacement.
Shin splints are a real pain for many athletes. But by implementing some of the above into your regime, you will be able to have confidence in your ability to ramp up your training and see out the season without those annoying injury breaks.