Ask any runner, soccer, or tennis player about shin splints and they will have a story to tell. Shin splints are common in people who participate in high-impact activities and are pains in the lower leg that run along the shin bones. These pains often occur after training routines are changed, or when muscles are overworked. Shin splints commonly develop after activity on hard surfaces like concrete. Overworking muscles causes pain and swelling of the muscles, causing pressure on the bone. Other factors such as running downhill or on uneven terrain, lack of flexibility, and improper training techniques can also lead to shin splints. Additional causes of shin splints are anatomical abnormalities such as flat foot syndrome, muscle weakness, and participating in sports that have frequent starts and stops.

Symptoms of shin splints come on gradually and may worsen over time if not treated. If you notice symptoms of shin splints the first step is to rest. Stop physical activity and talk to your doctor. Common symptoms include:

  • Dull ache in the lower part of the leg
  • Pain that develops during physical activities
  • Pain on either side of the shin bone
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Tenderness and soreness along the shin bone
  • Swelling in the lower part of the leg
  • Numbness and weakness in the feet.

Shin splints are not inevitable. The following precautions will help prevent shin splints:

  • Follow proper running technique- pay attention to stride length when running, smaller strides are ideal. Rather than running on your toes or landing on the heel first, try to land on a flat foot.
  • Build gradually- increase distance and speed gradually to avoid overstressing the muscles. Increase by no more than 10% weekly. This will keep you moving forward with your exercise routine at a safe pace.
  • Avoid overdoing it- one of the main causes of shin splints is overuse. If you begin to experience pain around the shinbone when exercising, your body is telling you to take a break. Further use could lead to stress fractures.
  • Lessen impact- in addition to running in proper shoes, arch supports or shock-absorbing insoles can be inserted into the shoe to help lessen the impact of running on the bones.
  • Choose the right shoes- Running in shoes that are old or do not have the correct fit can lead to shin splints. Do not run in shoes that are worn out or are too small. It’s a good idea to replace tennis shoes at least once a year, or every 300 miles.
  • Orthotic inserts: These inserts are designed to help absorb the shock of running. They can be inserted into the shoe to give you extra support as you exercise.
  • Cross train: adding less strenuous exercise into your workout regime can help ease shin splints. Low impact workouts are best, so if you are experiencing pain in the shins try swimming or cycling or another low impact workout to keep you moving.
  • Stretch: gently stretching the Achilles and calves can help with the prevention of shin splints.

There are a few treatment options when dealing with shin splints. The most important, however, is rest. If you are experiencing pain in the shin after activity it may be time to take a break and let your bones heal. Here are some other remedies to help with the pain and swelling due to shin splints:

  • Ice: Regularly icing for twenty-minute intervals will help to ease pain and swelling. Don’t apply ice directly to your body, however. Always wrap ice packs in a thin towel or napkin.
  • Rest: shin splints can last up to six weeks. If you are experiencing pain allow the affected area time to heal. When you return to exercising, increase mileage slowly and if pain continues, cut back on running until the pain subsides.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines: take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to relieve swelling and pain. Do not use an anti-inflammatory to lessen the pain to continue exercising. Though this will only contribute to the shin splints getting worse.
  • Physical therapy: If you are unable to walk without severe pain, you should seek medical attention. In extreme cases, physical therapy can help to alleviate the pain.
  • Leg elevation: elevation aims to reduce swelling by increasing the return of blood to the systemic circulation. This can work to reduce pain and swelling in the shins.
  • Wearing compression bandages: compression helps to diminish swelling. Make sure wraps are not too tight as this can lead to further swelling below the injury. Signs that the bandage is too tight are numbness, increased pain, numbness, and tingling.

Don’t let shin splints keep you from your favorite activities. Take precautions to prevent shin splints from occurring and if you start experiencing symptoms take it easy. For more information check out the Mayo Clinic's website.


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