Common in runners, dancers, military recruits and other athletes, shin splints are a condition marked by pain along the shin bone (tibia), or the large bone in the front of your lower leg. Shin splints are referred to in a clinical setting as medial tibial stress syndrome, and they can also occur in athletes who recently changed or heavily intensified their training routine – this activity overworks the muscles, tendons and bone tissue.
Most cases of shin splints can be easily treated with home methods, and there are also several steps you can take to prevent shin splints from developing in the first place. Here’s a look at the underlying causes and risk factors associated with shin splints and how to prevent and treat them.
Causes and Risk Factors
Shin splints are accompanied by tenderness, soreness or pain along the inner part of the shinbone and can also show swelling in the lower leg. They’re caused by repetitive stress on the shinbone and various connective tissues that allow muscles to attach to bone.
There are several things you can do to prevent shin splints:
- • Slowly build: Gradually increase the duration, intensity and frequency of your exercise regimen over time.
- • Analyze movement: A video analysis of running technique may allow you to identify the movement patterns that area leading to shin splints—in many situations, simply making a small change to your form can help lower risk.
- • Avoid overdoing it: Don’t run or perform other high-impact activity at high intensity for too long.
- • Wear proper shoes: For runners, replace shoes about every 350 to 500 miles. When getting new shoes, use the “wet test” for the proper size—step out of the shower onto a surface that will show your footprint, such as a brown paper bag. If you have a flat foot, you’ll see an impression of the entire foot on this surface. If you have a high arch, though, you’ll only see the ball and heel. This will tell you your foot pattern, and you can use this information while shopping for supportive shoes that are designed for your sport.
- • Wear arch supports: Arch support can prevent shin splints, particularly for people with flat arches.
- • Wear insoles: Shock-absorbing insoles can reduce symptoms and prevent recurrence of shin splints.
- • Choose lower impact activities: Consider cross-training with a sport that puts less strain on the shins, such as swimming, walking or biking. As with any exercise, build up gradually when you start these activities.
- • Try strength training: Strengthen your legs, ankles, hips and core. This can help prepare your legs to handle running and high-impact sports.
- • Try going barefoot: Barefoot running has gained popularity in recent years, and some claim it has helped with shin splint issues. However, there is no clear evidence at this point that this is the case.
When shin splints do develop, there are a few basic treatment methods:
- • Rest: Avoid exercises that cause pain, swelling or discomfort, but don’t feel you need to give up all activity at once. You can still perform low-impact exercises.
- • Ice: Apply ice packs to the affected shin for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times per day. Be sure to wrap ice packs in a thin towel to protect the skin.
- • Pain reliever: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium or acetaminophen can help reduce pain.
If you’re struggling with persistent shin splints, your doctor can offer recommendations on how to clear them up and prevent them in the future.
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“Shin splints.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shin-splints/home/ovc-20215288
“Shin Splints.” American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00407