Shin splints

MVHS athletes discuss their injuries and recovery process

Ritu Atreyas

Although the term “shin splints” is used to describe various types of shin pain, according to Certified Athletic Trainer Javier Margarito, many MVHS athletes who participate in a variety of sports from soccer to competitive dance have experienced medial tibial stress syndrome.

“It’s when the muscles that start right behind the shin that go underneath, behind the ankle and underneath your foot get overstressed,” Margarito said. “What ends up happening is [the muscle] starts pulling away from the bone. Because they get so tight underneath the foot, they start literally shearing off the bone. And that’s what medial tibial stress syndrome is.”

Over his 12 years of playing soccer, senior and varsity soccer player Aryan Arora has dealt with shin splints — however, the severity of the injury decreased dramatically when he began incorporating an approach similar to what Margarito recommends, a routine that consists of using rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Since his first time developing shin splints, Arora has played on the MVHS soccer team as well as club soccer teams outside of school, adding that the injury taught him to step back and remember to stretch before intense physical activity.

Arora continues to add a recovery step after all of his workouts where he allocates time to stretch and if necessary, ice. Margarito mentions the plethora of available tools to expedite recovery, including a recovery tool that can apply ice and compression at the same time called a Game Ready and pieces of equipment that allow athletes to continue working out even when the pain prevents them from playing their sport.

“For example, a cross country team has a set of bikes that they can use,” Margarito said. “So, if [an athlete] is unable to run, they can still get their cardio and do a strength component on a bike. Athletes can also utilize the pool — you put them in a weightless environment, like the pool, and they can do aqua jogging while they recover.”

However, even when MVHS alumna ‘20 Jennifer Huang found the pain from her injury unbearable, she tried her best not to skip dance team practices and competitions.

“There were times we would do kick routines all the way through and I would definitely feel my legs cramping to the point where once we were done, I would collapse and have to use my elbow to try to massage [my legs],” Huang said. “It would get worse during competitions when [I was] dancing all day and practicing kicks consistently even before going onstage. When I’m dancing, I try not to show it. And I know there are other members on the team who would say the same thing.”

Huang tried her best not to skip dance team practices and competitions. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Huang | Used with permission

Although her shin splints developed before joining the dance team, junior Patricia Diaz-Bian agrees with Huang, believing that kick routines worsened her shin’s condition.

“[My shin splints started when] my body couldn’t handle running on concrete [during Physical Education] every day and the impact was high on my shins,” Diaz-Bian said. “Now, since I’m always part of the kick routine, [which] involves a lot of hopping, the whole style of kick is, similarly, harsh on my shins.”

Drills like changements, when a dancer performs a jump from fifth position with their feet and land with the opposite foot in front, also add more pressure on the shins. Margarito sees shin splints often in those who overtrain their calf muscles, resulting in a muscular imbalance where athletes have strong calf muscles and neglected shin muscles. Margarito stresses the importance of knowing your limits as shin splints are an overuse injury — high school athletes, such as Diaz-Bian who says she often could not stand or walk without being in excruciating pain, are still in the process of figuring out what their limits are.

“They will push and push and push,” Margarito said. “But it comes down to the individual athlete having an open dialogue with their coach, like ‘Hey, I’m not feeling it today.’ Maybe that’s a sign of not enough recovery, poor nutrition or even poor sleeping habits. And the coach recognizing [that], ‘OK, we still want you to get [a workout in]. Let’s just do it a different way. Let’s have a recovery day for you.’ Our coaches believe that there’s time to work and there’s time to recover. It’s not always a grind.”

Huang has found that actions that help relieve pain include rolling out the calves using a massage roller or a tennis ball, taping the lower leg before dancing to help support it and stretching and massaging before and after dance routines. Having adopted such practices, she even found herself helping other members after kick routines deal with their calf or shin injuries. However, she mentions that these are temporary fixes; strengthening the muscles in the lower leg area is key to permanent recovery.

“Margarito has told the dance team to go hiking,” Huang said. “We’re all busy and it gets hard to [make time for it], but hiking and walking on an incline would help to strengthen your lower legs.” 

While quarantine has decreased the frequency of her conditioning, Diaz-Bian, after consulting with her doctor, has taken steps to strengthen her lower legs to expedite her recovery. Arora similarly hasn’t faced severe shin splints after having added exercises that focus on the lower leg area, including squats and lunges, to his workout routine. Margarito emphasizes a similar method of “preparing your body” by “starting small and increasing the intensity” over a period of time to strengthen any part of the body, including the lower legs. He recommends using the Nike Trainer app as a resource that “anyone can use” as there are a variety of workouts with different emphases. 

Although shin splints have posed as an obstacle for each of these athletes, they haven’t let the injury stop them from playing their respective sports. For example, Huang has continued to dance — however, she’s avoiding lyrical and kick, dance styles she focused on heavily on the MVHS dance team, and gravitating toward hip hop, a genre that doesn’t require as many jumps, kicks and technical elements. 

“There’s a lot of different resources that are accessible to the public to train your body,” Margarito said. “It just comes down to [the willingness] to put in the work. And that’s what a lot of people I think forget is. You have to make sure that you start, and you’re consistent about how you apply yourself [on your path to recovery].”