Shin splints are a common exercise-related problem. Any vigorous sports activity can cause them, but runners run the highest risk of developing shin splints. Shin splints develop when the muscle and bone tissue in the leg become overworked by repetitive activity.
Shin splints are caused by inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around the inner edge of the shinbone (tibia) where muscles attach to the bone. Shin splints often occur because of changes in physical activity, such as frequency, duration and intensity.
Other factors that contribute to shin splints include:
- Flat feet, which can increase stress on lower leg muscles during exercise
- Improper or worn-out footwear
What are the symptoms of shin splints?
- Pain along the inner border of the tibia
- Tender to the touch
- Mild swelling
- All of the above symptoms occur during and after exercise
Because shin splints are typically caused by overuse, standard treatment protocol prescribes rest from the activity that caused the pain. During recovery, substitute lower impact aerobic activity, such as swimming or riding a bike.
Other hints to relieve the discomfort of shin splints and prevent further painful episodes include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling
- Cold packs for 20 minutes several times a day
- An elastic compression bandage to prevent swelling
- Supportive shoes with cushioning
- Orthotics to align and stabilize the foot and ankle, taking stress off of the lower leg, especially for people with flat feet
- Return to exercise when pain-free for 2 weeks
- Decrease time and intensity and slowly increase training
- Cross train and alternate running with swimming or another low impact activity
- Warm up and stretch before exercising
If suffering with shin splints, discuss symptoms and medical history with the DOC orthopedic surgeon or PA, who will examine the lower leg and may order imaging tests to eliminate other shin problems. Several conditions can cause shin pain, including stress fractures, tendinitis, and chronic exertional compartment syndrome.