Shin splints affects many areas of exercise, particularly those that are high impact and require a lot of weight being applied to the legs. While most resources state this is normally caused from running and basketball, dancers also have a higher risk of developing them. While not all dance styles will have a higher risk attached there are ways that all dance styles can cause shin splints.
Jumping. This is probably the most common exercise in a dance class that can cause shin splints. The repetitive nature of jumping up and down can often leads to poor technique, like rolling the feet inwards so the body’s weight is not distributed evenly on the feet, through fatigue. It is likely that this causes inflammation of tissue around the shin bone which can cause pain down the front of the shin. The bigger the jumps, the more weight the legs bear and the higher the risk of shin splints. But not everyone that jumps high gets shin splints. So how can dancers decrease their personal risk of developing shin splints?
The first way for helping decrease risk of shin splints should come as no surprise to any dancer, warming up properly and cooling down at the end. This a staple of many dance classes framing the work that is done but also a necessity in order to decrease injury potential. By warming up, the muscles around the shin bone can gain energy and make it easier to initiate movement in this area, making the legs more capable of bearing weight. This will not only help decrease shin splint potential but also help with the quality of the jumps. It may be that even though you are warming up at the start of class you are still developing shin splints and it may be that the warm isn’t helping the areas involved in jumping. Here it may be useful to take the first set of jumps as a warm up itself, only elevating yourself halfway to enable the body to get used to jumping. If this is not possible, ensure that as the exercise is being taught to you, you’re marking it properly even if no one else is. It is important to acknowledge that everyone’s bodies are different and some may need more opportunities to go through the movements.
This may still not help and it may be that you don’t have the right strength and flexibility in the legs and ankles to be able to sustain jumping without injury. When mentioning flexibility for jumping it is not a cause of whether you can do the splits or not, it’s more about the mobility of the ankles and knees. For knee movement pilés are used to help prepare the body for jumping and rises or réleves are used for the ankles. If while training these movements you have become a bit lazy and turn in certain areas it is often translated into bigger movements as the strength and mobility has not had time to develop properly or has developed with bad technique which create weight placement in the wrong areas. To help gain the strength and flexibility it would be helpful to go back to the basic exercises and do a few sets everyday or before every lesson. Knees are harder to improve than ankles as therabands can be used as a further aid to help improve ankle strength, but ensuring the knees are over the toes in every landing will help minimise injury to the knees and help with weight placement.
The next two areas that can help are two that go hand in hand. The first is having appropriate footwear and the second is having an appropriate dance floor. Both of these are ideal if they have a little bit of cushioning. I used to teach in a hall that effectively just had a concrete floor, this was not ideal for the classes I was teaching but was the only space available, and I made a decision that I wouldn’t make my dancers do any jumps on the floor. This was to decrease the stress on the bones when landing in order to decrease injury. If the floor doesn’t support the landing, vibrations can travel up through the legs and can cause not only shin splints but also stress fractures. Dancers love sprung floors. The sprung floors not only enable a little more height in the jump but also allow for greater comfort when landing. The same goes for shoes. The more cushioning they have the less shock from landing is taken up through the leg. While not all dance classes use shoes, when they do make sure they are fit for dance and will help decrease injury risk.
There are a few more things that can be done to decrease risk of shin splints but these are a few I’ve picked out as being greatly applicable to dance. If you want to know more have a look at the NHS’s section on Shin Splints. But what can you do if you have developed shin splints?
The number one thing you can do to help aid shin splint recovery is rest. While this can be incredibly hard to do it is also the easiest method of recovery. If you’ve recognised the symptoms of shin splints early it may be that you just need to sit out of exercises that place increased pressure on the legs for a few weeks. But if you continue to dance on a shin splint injury it will become worse, interrupting daily tasks that do not increase pressure on the legs. With most shin splint injuries the pain is on felt temporarily but if it’s not treated at this point the pain can become constant.
Another useful tool to aid recovery is ice to the shins for a few minutes every few hours as soon as the symptoms are felt. This will help with the inflammation of the tissues, which in some cases can lead to swelling. When using ice ensure the frozen object is not placed directly onto the skin, instead wrap the item in a cloth or tea towel to avoid cold burns.
Other recovery advise include switching to a lower impact activity or using pain relief. If symptoms do not improve it is advised that you go and see a doctor as they have to tools to work out if it is something else causing the pain.
NHS Website: www.nhs.uk/conditions/shin-splints