Shin splints. They will make the average marcher, dancer, athlete hate their world. It’s like fire and broken glass running down the front of your leg from the knee to the ankle. It’s a feeling of weakness and injury. And it makes running, walking, jumping a hated group of activities.
If you’ve been victim to these damn things, you know: it will make your regular activities (running, tumbling, walking, dancing) a thing of torture and possibly evil.
It will make you want to do nothing more than either lay prone on your bed forever or cut your damn legs off.
Shin splints freaking hurt.
What are shin splints? “Shin Splints” are the generic term for pain running down the front of your leg from your knee to your ankle, surrounding your tibia and fibula. There are three things shin splints can actually be: tiny stress fractures to the bone itself; periostitus- an inflammation of the outer lining of the bone/s; or Chronic exertional compartment syndrome: this occurs when the muscles around the bone swell and the lining encasing those muscles gets too tight, cutting off the oxygen and blood supply.
They just hurt. So what can I do to prevent them, you ask.
Well, there’s treatment and prevention. These are two different, and equally important things.
Treatment: Yeah, you’ve all probably heard about RICE. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) Turns out that the RICE formula works not only for sprains but also for shin splints. So, when you’re not marching, walking, dancing, and running, elevate your limbs. Ice ’em. And god himself thinks you should wrap with an Ace bandage or similar. Shin splints can actually go away in a couple days with appropriate treatment. So…RICE ’em.
Prevention: The causes of shin splints are many, varied, non-beautiful things. Are your shoes too thin-soled? Do you have a tendency to either pronate or supinate? This is otherwise known as “rolling” the foot: moving the weight of the body too far either in or out over the arch. Being conscious of where, exactly, your weight is over your arch is going to help you out here. You want to be centered, not hanging out over either side. More critically, you’re going to want to strengthen two pieces of your foot: the arch and the ankle. Any stretch (releves, plies, tendus) that works the arch will be great for you. If you’re suffering from shin splints, you need to develop more strength in both arch and Achilles: plies with attention to keeping the heel down as long as possible on the way down and putting it back down as soon as possible as you straighten? This is critical. Tedious, but very useful. The Achilles stretch on stairs? Good. Do this on curbs, on stairs, on books, whatever and whenever. But stretch. Often.
If you have access to cross-training equipment, bike and swim. Do things that are not on your feet the way you normally are: use water, use pedals, use weights. The stronger all your supporting muscles and tendons are, the less fatigue and strain (shin splints!) will occur on the front of your lower legs. For that matter, strengthen your abs and core, too, with crunches, leg lifts, sit-ups and Pilates. The stronger your body is, the less strain your shins take.
Footwear: You may not be able to choose if you’re on a raked stage, in Ulanova’s finest pointe shoes, or on a football field that doesn’t have an air-spring core. If you have a chance to rehearse, at least, in footwear of your choosing, grab something that wraps the arch of your foot tightly; something that has bounce and spring and rubbery width in the sole. Add orthotics: old-person insoles, the old Dr. Scholl’s. Pride has nothing on shin splints. So get some excellent shoes. And then put foam in them. And, if shin splints are really an issue, wrap your shins and lower legs in compression tights or Ace bandages. In your off-time, stretch and cross-train. And never forget the power of anti-inflammatory medications.
But, at the end of the day, the secret is, as much as anything, to watch your form: if you’re rolling in or out on your feet, no matter what you’re doing, this is a problem you’re going to want to fix. And it’s up to you to focus on your form: walking, running, leaping, dancing.
The bones and the tendons need to work a certain way: you need to pay attention to your form. With the ankles, especially, don’t roll in and don’t roll in: whether you’re on your heel or on your toe, you’ve gotta be center.
Your shins will thank you for the attention.