Shin Splints and Swimmer
Shin Splints are a major problem and can lead to periods of detraining due to severe pain to the tibia. The question is, how do I prevent shin splints? How do I treat/recover from shin splints?
Swimmers are more susceptible to get shin splints. Why swimmers? Swimmers often incorporate heavy amounts of running into their dry land training. The reason they do this is to enhance muscular endurance while increasing their VO2 max capabilities. With a sport like swimming, you must be able to utilize oxygen efficiently because you are limited to breath during the race. Running increases your bodies capability to utilize oxygen while clearing lactate accumulation. The other problem arises from swimmers lack of gravity training. During swimming gravity is not involved. The eccentric motion of the muscle (deceleration or landing on the ground during jogging) is not involved as well. Swimmers muscles are not trained for this impact, nor for gravity’s force, and often times coaches force their athletes to run too frequently and too long causing shin splints.
The most common reasons swimmers get shin splints:
- Muscles not trained to handle gravity (eccentric muscle action) training >> Solution: Dryland resistance training
- Distances are too long too quickly >> Solution: gradually increase run distance and volume; add 1 day every 2 weeks, up to 3 days per week; increase 1 mile every 2 weeks to each run
- Improper running form; running heel to toe or flat footed (heavy foot) >> Solution: you should hear nothing when you run, silence… more dorsiflexion in the foot
- Muscular imbalances >> Solution: strengthen underactive muscles; increase overactive muscles flexibility / range of motion
How do I prevent shin splints?
First, change or alter your running form. Swimmers often run heal to toe or flat footed because running isn’t involved in swimming so their posture muscles are week and they do not learn how to sprint. The result of running flat footed will result in heavy impact upon landing from the stride portion of the run. This impacts the tibia and anterior / posterior tibialis, often leading to shin splints and/or stress fractures; females are 1.5 to 3.5 times more likely to get stress fractures their male counterparts. Second, perform a posture assessment. One of the main reasons individuals get shin splints is because of underactive and overactive muscles (muscular imbalance). Common underactive muscles are the tibialis muscles, medial gastrocnemius, and gluteus medius. Common overactive muscles are peroneal tendon, lateral gastrocnemius, biceps femoris, tensor fascia latae (TFL). After assessment, develop a program to increase the flexibility of the overactive muscles / tendons and strengthen the underactive muscles. It is up to the athlete, or the swim coach, to seek out a Strength and Conditioning Professional who can curtail a custom program that emphasizes the following as pre-hab and rehab. It is a good idea to get a dry land coach for the whole team, and/or the individuals who suffer from extreme shin splints. If there is not one in your area, seek out a program from another reputable source.
How do I treat Shin Splints?
There is a common agreement on certain treatment methods, however, I often disagree with the majority of the industry. The reason for this disagreement is because most Athletic Trainers, Doctors, Physical Therapists will tell their patient to rest, get new shoes, and change the surface they run on. This is like putting a band aid on a knife wound, it simply will not work. You can rest and the pain will eventually go away, but when you start running again your shin splints will return. The key to treating shin splints is looking at the bigger picture, the human anatomy; after this assessment, immediately rehab them. The pain might become intolerable so you can take a week or two off of running, but do not stop training all together.
Perform the following shin splints treatment:
- Massage therapy; have a sports massage therapist milk the Tibialis muscles.
- Self Myofascial Release Therapy; with a hard roller, roll out your calves, any overactive muscles, Tibialis muscles.
- EX: Roll your calves, when you find spots that hurt, sit on them until the pain dissipates.
- Static stretching post workout (any workout)
- Strengthen the underactive muscles
- EX: Perform the Bridge exercise to strengthen your gluteus medius.
Shin Splints are a major issue with swimmers because of numerous reasons. However, the one common theme is that it can lead to a period of detraining, which can be detrimental to race performance. If you leave shin splints un treated for a lengthy period of time the recurring ache along the posteromedial distal lower part of the tibia’  can become overbearing and further inhibit swim performance. Common complaints are pains during the push from the wall on turns, and the kick portion of breast stroke. Swimming is one of the most time committing sports in the world. One might even argue that swimming is the most challenging sport both mentally and physically. Swimmers work hard year round, only to get one chance to put it all together in a single race; the pressure is extremely high. If the swim athlete suffers from reoccurring shin splints, these pains become a mental barrier, and the pain may stand in the way of getting that Junior Nationals cut, a Nationals cut, or an Olympic Trials cut.
 Sports Injury Clinic
 Shin Splints by Rick Becker
 Carr, K., & Sevetson, E. (2008).
How can you help athletes prevent and treat shin splints?
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