What Are Shin Splints and How Can I Avoid Them?
Do you ever suffer pain in the large bone at the front of your lower leg after walking or running? You may be experiencing shin splints, an overuse injury that causes pain in your shinbone after exercise.
If you suffer from shin splints, you are not alone. Shin splints are quite common, particularly among dancers, soldiers, and athletes. In fact, research shows that between 4 and 35 percent of military personnel and athletes have the condition.
What Are Shin Splints?
Doctors refer to shin splints as “medial tibial stress syndrome.” The word “medial” means “middle,” and “tibial” refers to the bone in your calf, so the phrase “medial tibial” means that the condition affects the tibial bone that connects your knee to your ankle. The phrase “stress syndrome” means that shin splints are the result of stress, usually caused by overuse.
What Causes Shin Splints?
Shin splints are usually associated with exercise, particularly running. Engaging in any vigorous sport can cause shin splints, especially if you are just beginning a new activity. Even changes to an existing exercise program, such as increasing the number of exercise sessions per week or changing the duration and intensity of an activity, can cause shin splints.
In general, shin splints develop when muscles and bone tissue become overworked by repetitive activity. Overuse causes inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissues near the tibia. The excessive force associated with running and other activities causes leg muscles to swell. Swollen muscles press against the tibia, which causes pain and more inflammation.
Other factors can contribute to shin splints, such as having flat feet or abnormally rigid arches. Exercising with worn-out or improper shoes can also contribute to the development of shin splints.
Are Shin Splints Painful?
Shin splints can cause moderate to severe pain. In some cases, the pain from medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) can be extreme enough to halt workouts.
Pain usually occurs along the inner border of your tibia, where the leg muscles attach to the bone.
Discomfort usually develops at the front of the outer leg, below the knee. Pain typically occurs in the middle of the shin, usually right next to the shinbone and the area of discomfort is usually four to six inches long. Mild swelling may occur as well.
Pain associated with shin splints often develops during the early portion of the workout, eases up during the workout, and then reappears near the end of the training session. The discomfort is usually dull at first, but with continuing trauma, the pain can become extreme that you have to stop working out. In some cases, you might experience pain from shin splints even when you are not walking.
This pain can feel sharp and razor-like, or dull and throbbing. Touching the affected area can eve make the pain worse.
Doctors often ask patients to describe their pain using a scale of one to ten, where one indicates very little pain and ten represents the worst pain the patient has ever felt. Podiatry Today discusses a typical case study where a woman reported a pain level of seven when describing her MTSS pain.
How To Get Rid of Shin Splints?
Treatment for shin splints involves rest, and management of pain and swelling – even time. Even with proper care and treatment, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says that shin splints may take three to six months to heal completely. While it is tempting to rush back to your normal exercise routine once the pain is gone, exercising too soon can injure your leg muscles and bone tissues again.
Avoid repetitive exercise involving your lower legs for the first one to two weeks; do not engage in activities other than the
walking you do in everyday life. Slowly increase your activity level but stop if you feel symptoms of shin splints. Try a gentle stroll on your treadmill, for example, or go for a ride on your exercise bike or elliptical. You can slowly resume other gentle athletic activities after giving your leg muscles two to four weeks to heal.
To ease discomfort, apply ice to your shins several times each day for three days, or until the pain is gone. Taking ibuprofen, aspirin,
or naproxen to alleviate pain and reduce swelling. Be aware that these over-the-counter medications have side effects – they may even cause ulcers and bleeding. Ask your doctor if non-prescription pain relievers are appropriate for you.
How To Prevent Shin Splints?
Foot.com says that the best ways to prevent shin splints are to stretch and strengthen your leg muscles, wear shoes with adequate shock absorption, avoid excessive running or running on hard surfaces, and stay away from activities that require you to jump on the ball of your foot.
Use arch supports or shoe inserts, which help stabilize and align your feet and ankles in a way that takes stress off your leg muscles. Talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist about shock-absorbing insoles or orthotics you can wear inside your shoes.
Working with a physical therapist or trainer who can teach you some stretches and leg-strengthening exercises can help prevent shin splints. ‘Wall shin raises’ are one type of exercise for shin splints. Begin by standing with your back against a wall, with your feet about one foot from the wall and the rest of your body resting against the wall. While keeping your heels on the ground, stretch your toes as far upward as possible for a few seconds before lowering your toes to the ground again. Repeat ten to fifteen times.
You can also stretch your calf muscles with calf stretches. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Loop a towel or exercise band around the bottom of your feet and gently pull; hold for ten to fifteen seconds. Repeat two or three times on each leg.
For more information on shin splints and more tips on how to avoid them, talk with your doctor, physical therapist or personal trainer.