Shin splints are the most common cause of lower leg pain for Irish dancers. Shin splints, also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome is an umbrella term that refers to a number of conditions that cause diffuse pain along the inside shin.
They can affect so many dancers because of the following:
- Training intensity: Shin splints are most common for dancers when they return from a break from training or if they suddenly increase the volume or training intensity. For example: If you had a break from dancing during the summer weeks and returned to intense dance practices this would be known as a sudden increase in volume or training intensity. You must assure that you train in phases as I discussed in my book ‘Upping Your Step’ and gradually increase the intensity and volume as the body adapts.
- Pronation: Pronation occurs when dancers rest their bodyweight on the inside sole of the foot. Increased eccentric loading of the soleus and tibialis posterior muscles in the calf, can lead to shin splint pain. We, as dancers obviously put a lot of pressure on these muscles…
- Flat feet: People who are flat footed also tend to put more weight on the inside sole of the foot and as a result like ‘pronation’ you will experience shin splint pain.
- Now, more importantly, I believe that dancers have a higher chance of suffering from shin splint pain if they have poor gluteal and hip strength..!! Know that you will not read this statement anywhere else because this is my own personal view… Read on to find out more…
Most dancers who experience shin splint pain never go to a doctor for a formal diagnosis. However, I do recommend that you consult with your doctor if the pain does not disappear or improve after a couple of weeks as stress fractures can sometimes be mistaken for shin splints. So to be sure, consult your doctor.
Now, when diagnosed with shin splints you may be asked to rest, wear shin sleeves, change shoes, wear shoe inserts or apply ice. As dancers we cannot do any of these things and to be honest, I don’t agree with any of these statements because I don’t think they will solve our problem in the long term. Applying ice? Yes, maybe to reduce pain but this is only effective for a short period of time.
You may agree or disagree with what I am saying, feel free to comment.
If you have shin splints you may notice tenderness, soreness or along the inner part of your lower leg. There may even be mild swelling. The pain may stop, but you will find that after dancing the pain may be continuous.
From working with many dancers over the past few years, I also notice that shin splint pain can occur for weeks at one time, disappear, but return again. Why? This depends on the person, their lifestyle, training schedule and strength levels amongst other important factors.
So…here it is… my own personal view on shin splints!
When I assess dancers with shin splint pain, they all have one thing in common… they all have very poor gluteal and hip strength. So, as an experiment, I asked a particular group of dancers, of all ages, to follow a simple program that included strength training exercises which focused on particular muscle groups, balance exercises and mobility and flexibility exercises for a period of 4-12 weeks depending on the dancer. When these dancers returned for a re-assessment they informed me that the issue was no more. So from then on, when treating dancers with shin splints, I simply assign them to a particular program. A program that has been proven to be a success.
If you want to prevent or resolve shin splint pain, you must assure that you follow a program which includes strength training exercises, mobility and flexibility exercises and balance training exercises.
If you are a dancer who suffers from shin splint pain, feel free to contact me today and I will gladly help you to resolve the issue. As dancers, we don’t have to experience shin splints, it can be prevented!
Written by Peter O’ Grady
Irish Dancing Physical Fitness
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