Shin Splints

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the mp3 file that was posted in the last newsletter, it’s still up.

Secondly, I wanted to let you know about another wonderful dance website called Dance Advantage. ( It’s written by Nichelle Strzepek and is filled with valuable information. Check it out! (I’m hoping soon to get a page on my website for links)

Lastly, I want to firm up the rest of 2009’s schedule and so if you are interested in having me come to your area to do an all day workshop, now is the time to email me at! I realize if you are interested in a workshop before summer, most likely it would have to be on a Sunday. I’ll be in Chicago in July at CDMA, and am working on details to come to Denver, Colorado.

With finances the way they are with everyone, I wanted to figure out a way to make the very important info about the science of dance training available and affordable to everyone. So here is my outline.

We’ll meet from 9 – noon and then 1:30 – 4:30 with an open Q & A from 4:30 – 5pm.
The whole day would be $150, a half day $90. Generally, I gear my information towards the older dancer or teacher, but I would consider doing a workshop geared towards the 10 – 16 year old. There would need to be 20 participants so that I could make my minimum fee of $3000 – and I will take care of my housing and travel expenses. (of course the person setting it up wouldn’t be charged as they are offering space) I wouldn’t want more than 30 participants in any one workshop. Participants will walk away with valuable resource material to support what they have learned. (Sorry if talking about finances is tacky in a newsletter – but I always appreciate someone being honest and clear when they are proposing something, so that’s why I’m telling you the details before you indicate your interest.)

If you are in an area where the dance community is willing to drive up to a few hours to attend such an event – and there are enough interested dancers and dance teachers to make it happen – please let me know! (email me at I will help with advertising the event and location on my website and announcing it in my newsletters. (I’d also consider traveling to Europe – but you’d need to let me know asap you’re interested!)

Onto the question of the week from Hetty…

I am fifteen years old; I have been dancing for the past 10 years or so. I started with Ballet and I am now doing jazz and Modern. I dance about 8.25 hours per week plus 1.25 hr additional coaching on Saturdays for Grade seven ballet exam due in March.

Problem: My right shin hurts a lot. I Rest, Ice, Elevate and Compress and it goes away and comes back when I dance again. If I rub the calf muscle with sports balm the pain goes away.

Will massage help in this situation? I already checked with a sports doctor who recommended the RICE method.

This is a great question that is pertinent to all dancers and physical movers, such as cheerleaders & runners. Shin splints is often given as the diagnosis when you feel pain at the front of the lower leg. As we have mentioned before pain is always a cause for concern, and you would want to seek out appropriate medical attention if the pain is not getting better with your self treatment program. The doctor needs to rule out more serious problems such as stress fractures, which can occur from shin splints that go untreated. So words to the wise, shin splints do not need to be a rite of passage for dancers!

There are several theories on what shin splints really are. A common definition is inflammation of the periostium, which is the sheath that surrounds the tibia (which is the shin bone.) You can also have small tears and/or inflammation in the anterior tibialis muscle, which is the muscle in the front/outside of the calf, which flexes the foot towards the shin. You may have a combination of both problems.

Typically in shin splints you feel pain from the ankle to about half way up the shin. The area may feel swollen and tender. A warning sign of a stress fracture is when the pain becomes sharper and more specific to one spot on the tibia. Please go get an x-ray, Hetty, if this is what your pain feels like.

There are multiple reasons why you might get shin splints. The easiest one to figure out is dancing on too hard of a surface. Sometimes shin splints come on with a sudden increase in training – for example, all of a sudden doing twice the number of jumps and leaps in each class. (I’ve seen a lot of girls get shin splints in December when they start increasing rehearsals for Nutcracker and their muscles and feet aren’t conditioned and ready for the increase in time spent in pointe shoes)

Another common reason for shin splints is from an imbalance between the muscles in the front and back of the leg. More often I see dancers who are tight in their posterior calf muscles (the gastrocnemius, soleus) and end up loading the front calf muscle, which tries to help deepen the flexion as we described prior. It is also possible to have some weakness in those same muscles that can create a strain situation when you do multiple jumps and leaps. The key is balance, always.

I want to mention one other common issue with shin splints and that is poor foot mechanics. If you have a tendency to pronate, or roll in on the arches of your feet, you will be at greater risk for developing shin splints. This is another very good reason to make sure turnout is being created at the hip, not at the ankle/foot. If the shin splints have this biomechanical basis an insert or orthotic in your shoe wear can be helpful in keeping you out of pronation.

So what can you do to if you think you have shin splints? First, pull back from your jumping and leaping until you don’t feel pain in your shin area. It’s very hard to stretch the anterior tibialis muscle, especially for dancers, who have a good point. Instead, take your pinkie ball and kneel on the ground placing the pinkie ball under the front of one calf. You are going to gently massage the muscle by rolling on the ball or pressing down onto the ball. This will help decrease the tension in the anterior tibialis, and often make an immediate difference in how your calf feels when you stand back up. Many dancers will also use the ball to massage the back of the calf, and then stretch afterwards.

You can stretch the back of the calf by doing the typical lunge stretches with your back leg straight, and then with a tiny bend at your knee, bringing the feeling of stretch down into the Achilles tendon. You could also stand with the ball of your feet on the bottom step, or a couple of books, and allow your heels to drop down keeping your knees straight, and then with your knees slightly bent.

Generally, physicians and physical therapists initial will suggest using ice on the painful areas, and at a later time go between icing and applying moist heat to the area. Of course it goes without saying that dancing without having your leg muscles properly warmed up will increase your potential for shin splints (as well as other injuries:)

Since you have been doing the RICE treatment, lets try more massage, perhaps with the pinkie ball, along with pulling back on jumping and leaping, and increasing your stretching. You want the synergy of all of those things at the same time for shin splints. If this helps decrease the soreness or pain, that’s wonderful! You’re on the right track! If it doesn’t seem to help, or if the pain is getting worse, then stop dancing and get yourself to the doctors. You need to rule out the possibility of a stress fracture.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery!


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

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