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Shin splints are injuries which occur to the front of the outer legs, affecting the muscle tissue which surrounds the tibia bone. Shin splints are also called medial tibia stress syndrome. Shin splints are often not solely a medical problem on their own, but are a symptom of another underlying problem or injury.
For example, this includes swollen muscles, which are caused by overuse; stress fractures in the lower leg bones; flat feet, which means that the impact of taking a step causes your foot arch to collapse and put strain on the muscles and tendons in your legs.
Shin splints often occur in athletes who participate in sports such as running, cross country, football, hiking or any activity which involves frequent running or potential stress on the legs. Dancers and basketball players are also especially prone to shin splints.
Shin splints are typically the result of putting too much force or pressure on the shinbone and all those connective tissues which attach your leg muscles to the bone. For example, intense running, intense jumping (such as is common in sports like dance and basketball) and pressure from exercise machines or routines can also cause shin splints.
Many people develop shin splints at least once in their lives, especially if they are heavily involved in sports or exercise, however shin splints can also develop in the general population who does not participate in heavy sports. Shin splints are especially common among runners, and in fact they are the cause of about 13% of all running related injuries!
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 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.
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 are also effective ways 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.