Shin splints are an exercise-related problem that develops after a physical activity. It is often associated with running, but other vigorous sports may trigger it.
Shin splints are also called medial tibial stress syndrome because of the inflammation occurrence of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around the tibia. The pain felt in shin splints are most often occurs on the inside edge of the tibia (shinbone) where muscles are attached to the bone.
Causes and Risk Factors
Shin splints development are due to the repetitive overwork activity which includes changes in frequency, duration, and intensity. So, if you increase the number of days you exercise each week, this can lead in developing shin splints (change in frequency). Also, if you run on longer distances or on hills, this can as well caused to shin splints (change in duration and intensity).
Nevertheless, there are other factors to consider that cause shin splints such as having flat feet (or abnormally rigid arches) and working out with bad or overused footwear.
Moreover, there are several conditions that can cause the pain in your tibia. These conditions may affect your healing process if you are already healing from having shin splints. The conditions include stress fractures, tendinitis, and chronic exertional compartment syndrome.
- Stress Fractures refers to the small crack or cracks in the tibia that is also caused by stress and overuse. Doctors use a bone scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help diagnose the conditions of the tibia.
- Inflamed tendons refer to tendinitis. Tendons are the substance that attaches muscles to the bone. This can be as painful as shin splints, especially if there is a partial tear of the involved tendon. MRI is the instrument doctors also used to diagnose tendinitis.
- Chronic exertional compartment syndrome causes symptoms the same with shin splints. It occurs when there is a dangerous pressure within the muscles. This is usually brought on by exercise but the pain resolves soon after the activity stops.
Symptoms of Shin Splints
The most common symptom is a pain along the border of the tibia. This pain may be sharp and razor-like or dull and throbbing. It could also occur both during and after an exercise. Lastly, the pain can be aggravated by touching the sore spot.
A mild swelling in the affected area may occur as well.
Shin Splints Treatment
Shin splints can be treated nonsurgically or surgically, although the latter is done in very severe cases. Also, it is unclear how effective a surgery can be.
Below are some of the nonsurgical treatment that you can do to ease and totally eliminate the pain.
It is very advisable to take rest as shin splints occur due to overwork and overuse. Treatment mostly includes several weeks of rest from the vigorous activities that caused the pain. Low-impact exercise like swimming can substitute workout routines that are more physically demanding.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines
Doctors can prescribe some medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen to reduce pain and swelling.
Using cold pack is much recommended to ease the pain and swelling. You may apply it for 20 minutes at a time several times a day. Never apply ice directly to your skin.
An elastic compression bandage is very effective to prevent additional swelling. You can buy it at a sports store.
Flexibility exercises such as stretching the lower leg muscles may make your shins feel better.
Appropriate footwear for your chosen activity is very vital. Moreover, wearing one with a good cushioning will help reduce the stress in your shins during activities.
Patients of shin splints or people who have flat feet may benefit from orthotics. Nowadays, you can use shoe inserts to help align and stabilize your foot and ankle, so that stress is taken off from your lower leg. Orthotics can be custom-made or purchase.
Return to exercise
Before returning to your normal activity, you should be totally pain-free for at least 2 weeks. The above mentioned simple treatments can help resolve shin splints. So keep in mind that you must do a lower level of intensity once you return to exercise. You cannot exercise as often as you did before nor the same length of time. Also, make sure to warm up or do some stretches before you proceed with the exercise.
Ways to Prevent Having a Shin Splint
To prevent having the pain in your shin, try to practice doing the following:
- Wear proper fitting athletic shoes. Have you ever heard of the “wet test”? It is a procedure done to get the right fit of your shoes. After showering, step onto a surface that will vividly show your footprint, say, a brown paper bag. You can determine the shape of your foot through this. If you have a high arch, you will see the ball and heel of your foot. On the other hand, if you have a flat foot, you will see an impression of your whole foot on the paper. Once you determine in which category your foot belongs, look for athletic shoes that match your particular foot pattern.
- Build your fitness gradually. Slowly increase the duration, intensity, and frequency of your training.
- Cross train. Alternate your high impact sports with a lower impact one. Say, you are doing jogging, alternate it with swimming or cycling.
- Running barefoot. In recent years, barefoot running has gained in popularity. And although there is no vivid evidence to support barefoot running in reducing the risk for any injury, many people claim it has helped with their shin splints problem. Some research, have even indicated that it can spread out impact stresses among muscles so that no area is overloaded.
If you want to try and change into to this fitness regimen, better start barefoot running program gradually. Give your muscles and feet time to adjust by beginning with short distances. Pushing too far and too fast can put you at risk for stress injuries. Additionally, barefoot runners are at a high risk for cuts and bruises on their feet.