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Dealing with Shin Splints

Shin splints, also called tibial stress syndrome, refers to pain in the shins - the front lower legs.  Shin splints are usually the result of too much pressure on the shinbone and connective tissues that attach muscles to the bone. Common in runners and participants in activities that involve sudden stops and starts, such as basketball, soccer or tennis, they can also be caused by running too much on hard surfaces.  The symptoms of shin splits are tenderness, soreness or pain along the inner part of your lower leg and mild swelling in your lower leg. A variety of conditions can contribute to shin splints:
  • Excessive pressure on the lower leg muscles
  • Excessive impact on the muscle
  • Running a slanted or uneven surface
  • Running with inappropriate shoes or shoes that have worn out
  • Participation in sports that include bursts of speed and sudden stops
Additionally, sudden increases in activity, intensity or duration of exertion can lead to shin splints, resulting in dull, aching pain in the front of the lower leg or along either side of the shinbone or in the muscles. The area may be tender to the touch and swollen muscles may affect the nerves in the feet, causing numbness or weekness.  While some people feel pain only during exercise, it can become constant if not treated.  Women have a higher risk of complications from shin splints, particularly if their bone density is diminished. Flat feet or rigid arches also heighten the chances of developing shin splints. The best treatment for shin splints is rest, the condition does not improve faster with additional physical activity. In the majority of cases the doctor will recommend two weeks rest. This means no running or taking part in any kind of sport linked to higher shin splint risk. However, gentle activities, such as cycling, swimming or walking are usually acceptable.  You should see your physician for details. Treatment includes:
  • Rest. You may need to take a break from jogging, or your bi-weekly pick-up basketball game. Try cycling, swimming or other low-impact exercises while you heal.
  • Ice the affected area. Apply ice packs to the affected shin for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day for several days.
  • Wear proper shoes. Wear shoes that are suited for your foot type, stride and activity.
  • Consider arch supports. Arch supports can help cushion and disperse stress on your shinbones.
Most people return to normal physical activity within two weeks. Start slowly and gradually build up speed and intensity. Don't forget to warm up before exercise.  Heal, build up your confidence, and have a great time!  


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