What Muscles Are Affected in Shin Splints?

Shin splints are a common injury that cause pain in the lower part of the leg. They are considered an overuse injury, and the hairline fractures that occur are often due to training too hard, too fast or improperly. If an unconditioned person starts to train too hard or if an experienced athlete changes her training intensity or surface, the shin bone, muscles and tissues in the area can become overloaded. When this occurs shin splints can develop. The first step in treatment is to rest the area until any pain and inflammation subside. Then, steps must be taken to avoid re-injury, which involves strengthening and stretching the muscles in the shin.

A physiotherapist is rubbing a woman's calf muscle. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Gastrocnemius

If the calf or gastrocnemius muscle located in the bottom back of the leg becomes weak and/or tight, excessive stress may be placed on the shin bone. The calf muscle is responsible for pointing the foot and providing the power to push off the ground when running, walking or jumping. If this muscle is not strong or flexible enough to handle the force being placed on it, the shin bone can be stressed and may develop shin splints. When the shin splints have healed, the Mayo Clinic recommends performing toe raises to help strengthen this area.

Soleus

The soleus is a muscle deep in the lower leg underneath the gastrocnemius. Like the calf muscle, it aids in pointing the foot and pushing off the ground. This muscle is also involved in helping the body maintain balance when standing still. Rice University warns that if this muscle becomes tight, the shin bones may take on too much force as the body runs, walks and jumps. Along with wearing proper footwear, and using proper training practices, stretching the soleus muscle should be part of an overall treatment plan for shin splints.

Anterior Tibialis

The anterior tibialis muscle is located in the front bottom part of the leg. It aids in flexing the foot or bringing the toes toward the head. This muscle is used to flex the foot with every step. It can become stressed when walking or running uphill or downhill. When shin splints occur, this area may become tender to the touch or swollen. If treatment is started as soon as symptoms appear, recovery may only take a week or two. However, the longer treatment is delayed, the longer the recovery may be. The Preferred Health website says that if this injury is neglected and becomes severe, surgery may be required to repair the tendons or muscles.

Posterior Tibialis

The posterior tibialis is also on the bottom front of the leg. It helps pull the foot down and inward. Overuse or repetitive use of the shin area can cause this muscle and the attached tendons to become inflamed. If not treated properly, this inflammation can contribute to the development of shin splints, according to the Orthogate website. If any of the muscles of the lower leg become tight or weak, gait can become abnormal, and the muscles and tendons may pull on the shin bones. A physical therapist or coach can help in designing an appropriate exercise program to help stretch and strengthen the lower leg muscles.

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