Every athlete gets shin splints eventually, not just runners. Dancers also get shin splints, as do people just running to catch a bus.
The pain we refer to as shin splints occurs when the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your tibia (the long bone that runs from your knee to your foot, aka your shinbone) become overworked and inflamed. Felt along the inside front of the shinbone, pain can appear on a wide spectrum, from a dull ache to excruciating, can’t-walk-two-feet-without crying pain. Medically, shin splints are known by various terms, such as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), soleus syndrome, tibial stress syndrome, periostitis, exercise induced leg pain or chronic exertional compartment syndrome.
Shin splints aren’t a specific medical problem, they’re a symptom of a larger problem, usually irritated and overworked leg muscles, stress fractures in the shinbone, or overpronation – when the impact of a step causes the arch of your foot to collapse, placing stress on the muscles and tendons. They aren’t a serious problem, but they can definitely ruin your game, putting you on the sidelines for anywhere from three weeks to six months, depending on severity.
Shin splints usually appear right after you’ve intensified a training schedule or switched from exercising on a soft surface to hard surface. Therefore, you need to condition your legs with proper warm ups and cool downs when making these changes.
Shin splints can be avoided if you follow these guidelines:
- Always wear properly fitted athletic shoes which have been designed for your sport or activity
- Always warm up before exercising to get the blood flowing to your legs and muscles
- If you can avoid hard surfaces, do so. Training on grass or an outdoor track is much easier on your legs
- Increase training intensity gradually
- Custom desiged orthotics worn in your shoes balance your feet and provide support
How to treat shin splints
- Rest until the shin splints have completely healed
- Ice your shins for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for two to three days until the pain subsides
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medicine like ibuprofen (advil), naproxen (aleve) or aspirin
- Light stretching exercises to work the muscles in your leg and speed healing
It’s very important that you don’t resume training before the shin splints have completely healed, because they’ll return with a vengeance. To test the injured leg, do some walking or light jogging for a few blocks to determine if the injured leg feels as strong and is as flexible as the healthy leg. If there’s even a shadow of doubt, hold off on resuming training and take up some low impact exercise like swimming to stay in shape.