It’s always frustrating to feel like you missed an opportunity. One of these instances in my life was when i was playing high school football. The weird thing about it was that i never realized it was a missed opportunity until i grew older. The opportunity or potential that i missed was due to severe lower leg pain on the front side of my legs other wise known as shin splints. Shin splints can often be a chronic nagging injury for most and the biggest problem is that most people don’t get the proper rehab and care to resolve the problem.
Any activity that involves running at any pace can result in the pulling and strain of the muscles of the shin. The reason for this is mainly thought to be because of tight calves. Which is true and i agree with, in part. The calf muscles(on the back of the lower legs) are used primarily during the “step off” part of our run or walk, meaning they are the muscles that help point your toes towards the ground, help you lift off when you jump, or even when you push-off the pedal of your bicycle. We can typically get a good stretch to those muscles by dorsiflexing(bringing the top of the foot towards the leg).
But why does it hurt at the front of the legs if the calves are the issue?
The answer to that is simple. Every muscle has what is called its antagonist muscle or another muscle that opposes its movement. I.e. the Triceps straighten the arm and they’re antagonist, the Biceps, bend the arm. The antagonist to the calves are the shin muscles(anterior tibialis mm, peroneal mm). The problem is that most people have severely underdeveloped shin muscles. In order for the muscle to properly oppose its antagonist, its gotta be able to keep up with it! The calves become much stronger than the shin muscles, constantly forcing the shin muscles into over working beyond their limits. This leads to muscle spasms in the shin muscles causing all sorts of pain, especially when you walk, run or jump.
When i went to the school’s physical therapist, they gave me shin muscle strengthening exercises, an appropriate remedy to the help balance the muscle tension, the only issue: The muscles i was trying to strengthen were already overactive and worn out!! You cannot build overactive muscles into strong muscles without first rehabilitating the muscle. When a muscle spasms it creates stagnant blood flow in the muscle. Blood flow is crucial to normal body function because it is what sends nutrients to areas of our body as well as removes wastes from those same areas. Just as if you were re-building a house, the blood flow would represent bringing the lumber and other supplies in as well as disposing the used/old supplies.
Before we strengthen we must first reset the muscle’s function. How do we do this? We start first and foremost with restoring proper nerve impulse to the muscles and cardiovascular system through chiropractic care. The nervous system is the master controller of the body including, but not limited to, the musculo-skeletal and cardiovascular system . Then we retrain the muscles using compressive therapies such as foam rolling techniques, myofascial and trigger point release. After we accomplished normal flow to the muscles we strengthen the appropriate muscles to achieve true balance and tension within the lower legs as well as the rest of the body. If that imbalance is being caused by improper running form (true for most people suffering from shin splints) then…GET COACHED!! Yes, there is a LOT of technique associated with running and if you’re putting all your weight on your heels then you will engage some muscles(calves/anterior tibialis) more than others. Also, you will be putting up to 3x your body weight worth of stress on your heels.