The pain of shin splits can sideline your game. OrthoCarolina Physician Assistant and former professional soccer player, Andy Hylton, is seeing an increased number of soccer players diagnosed with Tibial Stress Syndrome, commonly known as shin splints.
Shin splints are an overuse or repetitive load injury, affecting the front of the tibia. Soccer players are at risk for shin splits when training intensity and duration increase or when footwear without appropriate support is used (soccer cleats). Individuals with fallen arches or flat feet are also more at risk. Each of these factors can result in stress being placed on structures supporting the bone, resulting in pain.
With any injury, you need to treat both the symptoms and cause of the injury to reduce the potential of it returning. Hylton recommends:
- Start by icing the shin and taking an anti-inflammatory which should help calm down the initial inflammation. Proper icing techniques can be found here.
- Modify activity for a few weeks after symptoms arise by reducing practice time or intensity. If players can switch temporarily to a lower impact exercise such as biking or swimming, it will help eliminate pounding stress on the leg, while maintaining cardio fitness.
- Wear supportive, properly fitted footwear when not in soccer cleats.
Once the initial shin splint pain calms down it is helpful to identify the cause of the shin splint injury with a medical evaluation. If shin splints are caused by flat feet, they can be treated with properly fitted orthotics inserted in the cleat. If shin splints stem from muscle weakness or imbalance, a stretching or strengthening plan will be recommended.
Before each game and practice, Hylton recommends warming up the lower leg by stretching to reduce the potential for shin splints.