Shin Splints

What are Shin Splints?
Do you suffer from dull, aching pain along the inside of your lower legs while running or during other athletic activities like soccer or basketball? If so, you may have shin splints which are a common overuse injury of the leg.  Shin splints are also known as tibial fasciitis or medial tibial stress syndrome.

The shin bone in the front of your lower leg is called the tibia. Pain occurs when there is inflammation around the soft tissue connecting muscle to the bone.  This inflammation typically occurs around the inside, lower one-third of the tibia above the ankle. You can experience shin splint pain during and after activities.

What Causes Shin Splints?
The primary reason for shin splint inflammation and pain is overtraining.  If you suddenly increase intensity or frequency of an activity, your body may not be able to tolerate or adapt to the increased level of stress.  Contributing factors include improper training technique and tight or weak leg muscles.  Other common causes are running with improper or worn-out shoes and running on hard surfaces or hills.  Having flat feet (pronator) or high arches (supinator) can also increase your risk of developing shin splints.

How to Treat Shin Splints
It is important to properly diagnose shin splints. Another cause of leg pain may be a stress fracture of the tibia which requires a different treatment plan than shin splints.  A thorough exam of your leg includes x-rays, but if a stress fracture is suspected, a more sensitive study such as an MRI or bone scan may be ordered.

Treatment and recovery from shin splints depend on the severity and duration of the condition.   It is important to avoid any high-impact activities that might aggravate your shins.  It is typically okay to cross train with low-impact activities such as aquajogging, recumbent biking, or the elliptical.  It is important to evaluate your shoes as improper or worn-out shoes can cause additional problems.  Physical therapy is also a necessary part of the treatment plan that includes stretching and strengthening of your leg muscles.   Pain that does not respond to rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications may benefit from a cortisone injection.  For severe cases, a walking boot or a period of nonweightbearing with crutches may be required.

How to Prevent Shin Splints
Once the pain has resolved, it is critical to resume your previous activities in a very gradual manner. A good guideline is to increase your intensity or distance by 10% each week.  At first, avoid running on hard surfaces and hills.  Consider shortening your stride length to decrease the force upon your legs.  If you are have flat feet or high arches, you may also benefit from custom orthotics in addition to supportive shoes.  And remember to continue stretching and strengthening your leg muscles to prevent re-injury.

Shin splints are a common cause of exercise-induced leg pain and are frequently seen in runners who train too fast, too much, and too soon. The next time you are running and experience pain in front of your legs, don’t ignore or try to run through the pain.  You may have shin splints.

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