Shin splints are a common injury affecting the bone or muscle in the lower part of the leg. Also known as tibial stress syndrome, shin splints aren’t one medical condition, but can describe the pain felt by several injuries. Shin splint pain can be debilitating, therefore finding effective ways of preventing shin splints will ensure that the possibility of pain is minimized.
What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints are pain in the lower leg, often along the shinbone, or tibia. There are a variety of factors that can cause shin splints, however the pain is almost always the same – dull aching that often occurs during exercise. At times the area can be painful to the touch and extend down into the feet. The pain does not start off intense, but if proper care isn’t taken to treat your splints they can get worse and the pain can get prohibitive. Athletes are most prone to them, although anyone can get them, especially if engaging in more physical activity than usual. Find out more on the question what are shin splints here…
What causes a Shin Splint?
Shin splints are most often caused when an athlete increases the intensity of a workout. Runners and athletes playing sports with a lot of sudden starts and stops, such as soccer or basketball, are especially prone. Those who exercise on a restrictive surface such as asphalt or concrete are also at risk for developing shin splints because hard surfaces are higher impact and less giving for the foot and leg muscles.
When shin splints occur during exercise, it is often because the muscles in the lower leg are becoming inflamed from overuse. Shin splint pain can also occur when a person develops tiny, hairline breaks called stress fractures in the lower leg bones. Those who have flat feet are especially susceptible to shin splints because of the way their foot and leg muscles work while running. Those who overpronate, or run with their feet pointed too far inward, are also prime targets for developing shin splints. With overpronation, each step causes the arch of the foot to collapse. This causes the muscles and tendons to stretch and can easily lead to irritation in the lower leg.
Shin Splint Treatment
Shin splints can initially be treated with ice to reduce pain and swelling. This can be applied 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for several days until the pain is gone. Anti-inflammatory pain medicine such as ibuprofen or aspirin will also help reduce pain and swelling. Those who have flat feet or who overpronate should purchase arch supports. Generic supports can be bought at major retailers, or they can be custom-made. Supports fit inside the shoe and help reduce the strain on the leg and foot muscles.
Certain muscle extending exercises can also help in your cure for shin pain. Such exercises will work out the inflamed muscles along the tibia and can help get them slowly acclimated to the intensity of a hard workout. Those who suffer from bad shin splints can see a doctor or physical therapist for direction on what exercises will help reduce the pain and strengthen the muscles.
Those who start to feel pain in their shins should stop working out immediately to prevent the pain from getting worse. Continued exercise will only increase the level of injury and trauma to the legs. Rest is of the utmost importance in treating shin splints. The sufferer should stop exercising until the pain completely subsides. Rest is especially important for the healing of stress fractures, as it takes time for a bone to repair itself. When starting up again, easing into an exercise routine will help ensure that the shin splints won’t return.
How to Prevent Shin Splints?
There are several steps to take to prevent shin splints from happening. Good, supportive shoes are essential for shin splint prevention. If playing a sport, be sure to wear appropriate athletic shoes. Those who have flat feet or who tend to overpronate need to wear arch supports at all times. Runners should also be sure that their shoes are in good condition. Running shoes wear down easily and should be replaced after 350 to 500 miles (500 to 800 kilometers). Wearing supportive shoes will ensure that the muscles in the foot and leg receive less shock from the ground and aren’t overextended.
Another important step in shin splint prevention is to warm up thoroughly before each workout. This gives the muscles time to get acclimated to exercising. Starting a new exercise routine can be difficult, so those prone to shin splints should be sure to start off slowly. Those who build up an exercise regimen over time rather than all at once greatly reduce their chances of getting shin splints.
Another preventative technique is to exercise on soft surfaces like grass or a rubberized track. Hard concrete and asphalt doesn’t provide much resistance for the runner or walker, and is very rough on muscles and joints. Cross training is another effective way to prevent shin splints, because it enables the athlete to work out all muscles of the body while not always putting pressure on the legs. Low-impact sports such as swimming or cycling are great for those who want to get a workout but are worried about developing shin splints.
Strength training and targeted leg exercises is another effective way to prevent shin splints. Making the legs stronger with leg presses and calf raises will make those muscles around the shin less prone to injury. Taking extra time to stretch out the calf and lower leg muscles before, during and after exercise can also help prevent the painful shin splints. Those who know they are prone to shin splints can also get advice from a physical therapist on appropriate leg stretches to do.
The pain of shin splints can be debilitating to anyone. Knowing how to prevent shin splints is an important tool for all athletes and those who want to ensure that they can get an adequate workout without being plagued by pain.