It’s well known that shin splints—known medically as tibial stress syndrome—is high on the list of “runner’s worst nightmares.” The discomfort in your shins, along the edge of the tibia bone, may range from anything from dull aches to razor-sharp pain, throbbing and swelling. It’s often worse during or after exercise, which means it has a bad habit of popping up at the wrong time and making it difficult to enjoy activities without pain.
What Shin Splints Really Are (and What Causes Them)
Here’s what’s going on: when you walk, run, jump, or perform exercises with lots of hard impacts on your feet, those forces get transferred up to your legs as well. Running is the most commonly associated activity, but dancers, basketball players, military recruits, and many others are also highly susceptible. The muscles, tendons, bones, and other connective tissues in the front of your shin may not be able to handle all of that stress, and when they can’t bear the load, the result is inflammation, fatigue, and pain.
The people most at risk are those who are just beginning a new activity, or rapidly increasing the intensity of training. Starting and building slowly allows your body to gradually get used to handling greater stresses; trying too much, too soon is more likely to result in problems.
Other risk factors include:
· Running on hard surfaces or uneven terrain
· Structural foot issues (such as flat feet or high arches)
· Wearing improper, ill-fitting, or worn-out footwear during exercise
Unlike traumatic injuries (such as an ankle sprain), shin splints don’t usually have a single “injury” event, but rather develop over time due to overuse. Nonetheless, REST therapy (rest, ice, compression, elevation) can be effective. Discontinue activities that are causing your pain, use cold packs as necessary (20 minutes at a time, 2-3 times per day), try a compression wrap or bandage, and keep your leg elevated as much as possible with you sit or recline. These practices help reduce pain, minimize swelling, and promote good healing.
Rebounding from Shin Pain
The good news is that most cases of shin splints can be resolved through conservative therapies and self-care practices. However, a visit to North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute is still recommended to help you develop the best treatment program and potentially identify (or rule out) any other possible causes of your pain, such as fractures. The diagnosis is usually made based on medical history and a physical examination, although we may also order X-rays or other tests if we’re concerned about other potential issues.
In some cases, more RICE therapy (with the additional of over-the-counter pain meds as necessary) may be the only treatment you need. However, depending on your specific circumstances, we may additionally recommend one or more of the following:
· Exercises and physical therapy to stretch and strengthen lower leg muscles and improve flexibility
· Cushioned insoles to absorb impacts
· Pre-fabricated or custom orthotics to accommodate a foot structure deficiency and distribute impact forces more efficiently
· Prescription-strength painkillers or cortisone injections for more intense pain
The vast majority of cases resolve naturally due to a combination of these conservative treatments, and most will also help you prevent future cases, too. You may also consider if your shoes are part of the problem—they should be designed for your sport, fit well, and be in good repair—and adjust your training regimen to include more low-impact activities, such as cycling or swimming.
Don’t let painful shin splints keep you from the things you love. Dr. Keith McSpadden and the team at North Austin Foot & Ankle has helped thousands throughout Greater Austin recover from their foot, ankle, and lower leg pain, and they can help you too. Request an appointment online, or call us 512-593-2949 and see us in Cedar Park or Round Rock, TX.