Hi Jane, thanks for your question. Shin splints are caused by repeated trauma to the muscles where they attach to the shin. The most common cause is overuse or overtraining, and it's associated with poor foot and leg biomechanics. If you haven't already, seek out the assistance of a good physiotherapist who can ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
Shin splints cause dull, aching pain to the front of the lower leg and may be painful to the touch. Because stress fractures can cause similar symptoms, its essential you seek professional assistance to rule out other causes of the pain.
Even working with a professional, it may take some time to normalise the abnormal movement patterns that led to the injury and restore the muscle strength needed to run safety and comfortably. However, if you intend to continue running over the longer term, it's a wise investment.
Manual therapy and plant medicine can go hand-in-hand to accelerate recovery from sports injuries and improve long-term outcomes. The key botanicals used in injury recovery have been subjected to rigorous scientific trials and have been validated with clinical use.
The first step in any sports injury treatment, including shin splints, is to reduce inflammation. Arnica is the most frequently used medicinal plant for sports injuries and first aid. It is most effective in the first 24-48 hours after an injury to reduce inflammation, and relieve swelling and pain. A 2007 study that compared topical gels of Arnica and Ibuprofen for treating osteoarthritis of the hand found that Arnica was as effective in reducing pain and improving mobility, with Arnica showing better tolerance.
Beyond 48 hours and as you move into the longer term healing and strengthening stages, Arnica is best combined with other medicinal plants that support long term tissue repair and rehabilitation. Arnica combines well with Comfrey, St John's Wort and Rue for soft tissue, bone and nerve damage recovery. In a 2005 study, a comparison between Comfrey and Diclofenac (a common anti-inflammatory drug) was conducted on over 160 patients with acute ankle sprains. Tenderness reaction was equally reduced by both, however the Comfrey group experienced less pain upon pressure. These medicinal plants are also traditionally used as fresh-plant extracts to accelerate healing from the inside out.
If your shin splints improve with the application of heat (such as a heat pack) Cayenne (Capsicum annuum) may be an appropriate plant medicine. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory, Cayenne is a powerful local circulatory stimulant that can bring increased blood and nutrients to the area, relieving congestion and inflammation of deeper tissues. Excellent for stubborn injuries, deep strains and chronic pain, take care when applying topically and start with small, regular applications - sensitivity to cayenne is highly individualised.
When selecting topical treatments, keep in mind that scientific trials indicate remedial creams should incorporate 25-30% plant extract to provide expected clinical results. For this reason, always choose the best quality products made with certified organic plants.
If symptoms worsen or do not improve, continue to consult your lead healthcare professional.