Deep tissue calf massages and shin splints.... a waste of money?

Hey guys,

A persistent case of shin splints, notably tibial periostitis according to my Physio since April, there were worries of a stress fracture and since April I've been pretty inactive to be honest- it took till September just to find out exactly what the problem was and there was no stress fracture in my tibia after all (MRI's and X-rays, I had them all). Anyway, my pain has never been severe but enough for me to know not to run on them. I'm going to be able to start gentle running again next week and building up gradually. I've got issues with my hips and therefore my stride is pretty bad, but I'll be getting orthotics in the next few weeks to sort this. I'm 17 and 6ft 3 and despite doing all the sport I do, (back in March I was a 37 min 10k runner), my calves are weak and very skinny so my Physio has given me strengthening exercises to bulk them up which I've been doing for 3 weeks now. But she also says that I've got extremely tight calves, probably due to me growing, and that's what's actually causing them to pull on the bone and cause the pain all along. I remember when I had a calf massage in the Summer it did help the pain ease. The only thing that stopped me having more was money and conflicting advice. However, now I know that I need to loosen my calves to be able to stop the pain and train again, I want to follow the advice and try and get a deep tissue calf massage at least every week.

My mum however has spoken to 'lots of people' who've told her that the only way to cure shin splints is rest.... (none of which are runners). She's kicking off at me spending £30 for an hour's calf massage saying it's pointless and that I just need to rest. Sadly she won't allow me to pay for anymore and nor will she listen to my explanation that unless I loosen my calves I'm never going to stop the pain- I hope I'm right in thinking that rest will ease the symptoms but won't solve the problem!

Can you guys back me up here and confirm that deep tissue massages really are beneficial? Maybe I could show her the response and prove that I need the massages (although they don't half hurt!)


  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭

    Your mother is right. Despite all the champions of foam rollers and the like, if you really think this through, how natural is it to go digging your mitts hard into your muscles? Now, to break up some scar tissue it may be required but beyond that I'd leave off. The pain is a warning. Hurting the area doesn't help. Better to keep to standard stretching and hot and cold water treatments. Patience. Have you got it?

  • Gosh, I'd disagree totally.

    Deep tissue massage combined with rigorous foam rolling has sorted out a number of painful and very long standing muscular issues I'd been struggling with for years, and which various physio exercises, physio recommended stretches and resting did very little for. If I'd rested enough to not do anything to aggravate my dodgy shoulder, I'd have been almost immobile and a total couch potato! I 'rested' an old calf injury for nearly 4 years when I didn't run at all, but once I started again, it reappeared fairly quickly.

    I recently had a really nasty experience of shin pain (almost too sore to walk on and occasional stabbing pains even while sitting resting) for the first time ever, and two visits to my usual physio for some deep manipulation sorted it out very quickly. NOTE: I also took nearly a month off running and also took her advice about buying replacement trainers as the ones I'd been running in were knackered. Massage isn't a miracle cure or something that allows you to skip the rest your body need while injured. But I do think it can help to get things sorted out quicker than would happen naturally, even with all the icing and stretching and resting in the world. That said, while the massages may be beneficial, I don't think you actually NEED them as I'm sure there's probably more you could do to loosen off your calves yourself.

    So don't fall out with your mum about it. If you can't continue with massage treatment, get yourself a foam roller - it really is the next best thing. They're not expensive at £15-20 or so and you might find that targeting your calves for 10 minutes twice a day is actually more beneficial than going for an hour long massage once a week. Try it for at least a month or two and then if you still feel you want to persist with the massage, at least you can say to your mum that you've worked diligently at it and tried as much as you can for yourself, and if she sees that she might be more likely to come round to your point of view.

    I mean, she's your mum, she obviously doesn't want you to be injured or in pain or unhappy because you can't run. She's just looking out for you and making sure you're not throwing money away without trying cheaper options first.


  • I've recently started running again after a 2 year gap. I'm 56 and relatively fit - heart, blood pressure, V02 of 54. I spent 20 years in the Army - the period when they did all their running in boots! Since leaving in 1993 I was diagnosed with having fallen arches. Since taking up running (after 3 months of walking build ups/jogging) again I have shin splints pain in my left leg only.

    I can run through the pain (just) and after about 1 mile it goes away. Don't suffer any other pains - at least nothing that I can't put down to wear and tear.

    Anyone sugest why I only get it in one leg?

  • Could be a number of reasons. You've most likely got a significant bit of asymmetry going on somewhere in your body that is helping to cause shin pain in one leg but not the other. Could be one leg longer than the other, reduced flexibility on one side due to old scar tissue or any one of various other things.

    I only get shin pain in my right leg, and it's because my right foot turns out the way ever so slightly when I roll my foot forward, meaning my hyper-mobile ankle rolls in the way a tiny bit and stretches the muscle down the shin on that side. Other people could have the same symptom but different causes...


  • Thanks everyone. I definitely think calf massages are the way forward. I just think that if the pain is caused by tight muscles... then surely untightening the muscles if the way forward. But I don't want to sound like I'm narrow-minded.. I just wanted to see what other people thought and if they'd had success. 

    I get my shin pain in both legs. It's pretty equal. The problems in my biomechanics ar eonly in my right leg though which is strange. 

  • Hi there, I totally empathise. I am something of a novice runner who is meant to be running my 1st half marathon this Sunday. I started a training programme seriously back in june, and have been sensible in my approach (joined a running club, bought a foam roller etc etc), everything was going great & I was on track for 2 hours when 2 weeks ago after my longest run to date (19k) followed by a 15k 4 days later I developed shin splints (both legs, its Worse in my left leg). Up until that point my distance increase and plan had been mapped perfectly and I was feeling really strong. I'd been stretching, having some Massages, and I just think the 2 runs was too much for me in a short space if time (I hadn't been able to do them a week apart..)

    in the past 2 wks I have had 3 lots of massage&ultrasound, along with reg icing, resting, stretching, ibuprofen etc etc. my legs were feeling a lot lot better so 2 days ago I set out (after lots of stretching) on a gentle run to test my legs (as advised my my running coach), but unfortunately 1.5k in the pain in my left leg. I gave up at 3k as i didnt want to make it worse. Many tears followed (I've put a lot into this over the past 4 months, plus I'm running for a charity so feel like I'm going to be letting my sponsors down if I can't run). I have had so much conflicting advice, everyone had a different opinion about whats best it seems. the bottom line is this is an incredibly frustrating affliction not least to say painful too!

    Today I am going for some acupuncture as a last minute attempt at a miracle so I can run this Sunday. I have been promised this will gets through it (am cautiously optimistic). If not I will have to look at alternative half marathons over the next few months. I'm trying to stay positive but I'm not going to lie, I will be gutted if I can't run Sunday.

    For me the massage did help, (I appreciate its costly but I agree maybe you could do 1 every other week) I just probably needed a few more weeks on my side.

    Good luck with your recovery, on a positive you have youth on your side which is a wonderful thing!
  • Hi Nikki,

    Sorry to hear you're having issues too, sounds like we're in a similar boat! To me, it sounds like yours is caused by your biomechanics more than anything else. For me, I was told that my biomechanics are only 50% of the problem, my calf being the other half. It seems like you have done everything else correctly such as building up your training carefully, except you haven't mentioned gait analysis or orthotics- apologies if I'm wrong! 

    You could go to a running shop for gait analysis but the best and more accurate bet if you haven't already may be to see a podiatrist. Like you say, being young is a blessing as I get it free on the NHS and will be getting orthotics in the next few weeks. I had acupuncture twice- it eased the pain for a day but it came back. Let me know how it goes. I'm glad to hear the massage did help and I am going to keep having them. 

    If I were you, as gutting as it is, I'd leave Sunday. You're not going to be able to enjoy it if the pain comes back and to prevent it getting more serious and staying with you for 6 months like me, you'd need to return to training from injury gradually and slowly anyway- that was my initial mistake and I deeply regret it now.

    Hope all goes well!

  • ....I'm not so sure.

    A tight muscle is a symptom, it's not the cause.

    Every muscle has an equal and opposite(ish). If something is short and tight then something else is long and not doing very much.

    Go there for the cause - the rehab will take longer, but stretching will only provide short term benefit, never long term results....

  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭

    I once had sore shins when I started over training in my early 20's. I kept going through ambition until even a heavy footstep hurt like anything. Welcome to the world of stress fractures. I had other interests to keep me occupied but I did note that it took 18 months for the sore areas to completely recede. Good luck with the foam rollers and massage.

  • I love massage and have found it really useful for getting me moving again after injuring both calves.It is expensive though, so I can't do it as much as I'd like.

    I have a foam roller, and find it useful on most of my body, but not strong enough on my calves.What seems to work on them is sitting on the floor and rolling a tennis ball around under my calves, stopping on the sore bits and pressing down on them for a minute or so. It helps me to put the ball on a couple of books to get the right height.

  • RicF I have just today been diagnosed with a stress fracture. (I had thought it was shin splints). Can you tell me how you got over it and back to running, please? Rather depressing...
  • Litdog, sorry to hijack- just want to add my opinion that you need to listen to every bit of advice you get from the physio as I didn't and I regret it. If it 'should be okay' then it probably isn't, you need to know for definite. I had a 'stress fracture' for 3 months but turns out it wasn't so I'd dig deeper and make sure they're absolutely sure as sadly, the majority of NHS doctors are shit with sports injuries and it's hard for a Physio to be absolutely certain if it's a stress fracture. Stress fractures often begin as shin splints- they are related. You just need to be patient and the light will come at the end of the tunnel- spend this time working on core like I have been doing, learning the science of sport and nutrition and keeping fitness up in the pool as well as taking Calcium/Magnesium supplements and eventually it will be ok. At one point I thought I'd never run again but I had to keep positive, and nearly 6 months later, I should be running again next week. The next 8 weeks of rehab are going to drive me insane but I've gotta do it. You'll get there. How old are you? Get yourself onto the NHS Podiatrist now if you can for orthotics- if that's the underlying problem.

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