The term "shin splints" refers to pain running along the shinbone (tibia) – the large bone in the front of your lower leg. The pain is the result of an "overload" or "over-stress" on the shinbone and the soft tissues that attach your muscles to bone.
Usually, shin splints start with tenderness, soreness or pain, along the inner part of your lower leg, occurring only when you are active. Initially, there may also be some mild swelling. Eventually, however, shin splints progress to continuous pain with daily activities.
The overload or over-stress is often caused by specific athletic activities, including:
- Running downhill
- Running on a slanted, tilted, or hard surface
- Exercising in worn-out footwear
- Engaging in sports with frequent starts, stops, and jumping, such as basketball and tennis.
Shin splints can also be caused by training too hard, too fast, or for too long. If you have flat arches, you may be more prone to shin splints. When running, flat arches may cause your feet to roll too far inward (pronate), thus overloading your shinbone.
Treatment and Medications
In most cases, you can treat shin splints with simple self-care steps:
- Rest - Avoid activities that cause pain; replace your activity with another to maintain conditioning like swimming or biking.
- Ice - Apply ice for 15-20 minutes or perform an ice massage for 5-7 minutes.
- Compression & Elevation - Elevate your shin above the level of the heart, especially at night or when icing. A light compression wrap may also help to decrease pain.
- NSAIDs - Medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin may help reduce pain and inflammation. If you are taking other medications or have other health issues, check with your physician before using.
- Wear proper shoes - Select appropriate shoes for the specific activity. Replace your shoes about every 250 to 400 miles or when they are worn or broken down.
- Consider arch supports - Arch supports can help cushion and disperse stress on your shinbones. Arch supports are available over-the-counter or custom-made.
- Add stretching and strengthening of the lower leg to your workout.
Shin splints can progress into a more serious injury, so if the conservative treatments listed above are not helping, see your physician for further evaluation or possible referral for physical therapy.
For more information about shin splint or other sports medicine topics, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.