Written by: Sally Elsakary PT, DPT
Injuries to the lower leg, or shin, can encompass a wide variety of conditions. Most common injury is “shin splints” (anterior tibial tendonitis) but other injuries include Achilles’ tendonitis, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, and fractures of the tibia or fibula (bones between the knee and the ankle).
As your injury may have occurred because of a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to, movement faults, insufficient strength of the muscles of your lower extremities, restricted soft tissues, previous injuries, and posture, your treatments may vary. But the role a physical therapist plays in recovery is instrumental. Physical therapists are movement experts and can help people with shin injuries recover pain-free movement and learn exercises and tactics to prevent injury.
First Step to Recovery
Physical therapists can independently evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients during clinical practice. They do not provide a medical diagnosis but are well-prepared and skilled to identify signs and symptoms and refer to a physician or specialist as appropriate.
During your first two weeks of physical therapy, you will be performing exercises and stretches you may not have performed before. Therefore, increased soreness or tenderness may occur, which is a normal response as your tissues adapt to the new challenges.
A key component of a successful recovery is having a positive outlook. Imagine yourself when your lower leg or shin is healed and you’re able to stand, walk, and get back to the things you love to do. How good is that going to feel? Having a positive mindset will decrease stress, allow your body to heal, and can also help with managing pain.
Important Lifestyle Changes
Depending on the mechanism of injury and your personal physical therapy goals, treatment interventions may include lifestyle modifications in:
- Sleep posture
- Shoe wear
- Physical activities
Learning how to change your habits to make your activities fit your body is very important, as not to reinjure yourself. There are many tips your therapist can share with you. Learning to stretch, take breaks and change your position are helpful actions.
Other key factors to your recovery are the following:
- Mental Health: Important to have positive outlook.
- Hydration: Dehydrated muscles and tendons are often slow to heal and lack flexibility.
- Nutrition: Limit alcohol and sugar consumption and increase healthy fats in your diet such as salmon, unsalted nuts and seeds, avocados, and olive oil.
- Sleep: Your body recovers when you sleep.
If you are not sleeping well, avoid electronics before bed and substitute breathing, meditating, reading, or simply doing nothing to unwind (the last one can be oddly difficult for many, but nevertheless still beneficial).
Addressing these lifestyle changes and other key factors throughout all aspects of your daily life will add up and help you heal while also establishing good practices to avoid injury in the future. Small changes daily soon become natural habits which require minimal effort.
How to Make Physical Therapy Work
Physical therapy doesn’t work unless YOU do! Out of the 112 waking hours of a week, you will likely receive treatment for approximately 2 of those hours. This means that what you do outside of PT can significantly impact your rehabilitation outcomes- for better or for worse. For optimal results, it is crucial that you comply with your home exercise program and make adjustments to your lifestyle as deemed appropriate.
Naturally, patients who are consistent with their home exercise program (HEP)’s gain independence in managing pain and other symptoms, and also improve their potential for rehabilitation. In most cases you will be doing many of the same exercises you are doing at your therapy sessions. If you haven’t gotten into the routine yet, it’s okay. The best time to start is today!
Stay Committed to Full Recovery
When you are feeling better and tempted to stop therapy, think twice because you may not be out of the woods yet. If you are no longer having pain and are getting back to your regular activity, that’s great! At this point some people are tempted to stop physical therapy, but pain management is only the first step toward recovery.
With compliance to your home exercise program, you may experience a reduction in your symptoms within your first few visits! To create long-lasting results and to prevent re-injury, it is imperative that you commit to rehabilitation for at least 6-8 weeks, as that is the duration required for increases in muscle length and strength to occur. The final stages of rehabilitation will differ between patients, as patients’ baseline functional status and therapy goals are very diverse.
Be sure to utilize the skill of your therapists while you have it in order to avoid a setback or secondary injury, and also to get the most out of your experience.
Have fun with your rehabilitation! Our team at Professional Physical Therapy strives to create a fun, safe, and supportive environment conducive to your healing. We may instruct, cue, and educate as coaches, but the reality is we are a TEAM, working together to achieve your personal goals. Your voice, opinions, thoughts, and questions are highly encouraged to create your personalized recovery experience.
If you’re experiencing any pain or discomfort visit us a Professional Physical Therapy for a consultation or evaluation. Our trained specialists are here to help you reach your goals and get your life healthier and more comfortable today!