Shin splints can affect runners, athletes, and elderly people with active lifestyles. Shin splints are a stubborn injury that can be extremely intense. With a complex diagnosis and treatment process, having the right information is essential. In this guide, we’ll help you understand the root of your shin pain and how to overcome it.
Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, involve inflammation of the bone tissue, tendons, and muscles around the tibia (shinbone). They typically develop after strenuous physical activity and are common for individuals beginning new fitness programs. Intense pain usually occurs along the inner edge of the tibia.
To determine whether you’re suffering from shin splints, location of the pain is important. There are two regions commonly affected by chronic shin splints: anterior and posterior.
Anterior Shin Splints
Anterior shin splints present on the front area of the tibia and involve the tibialis anterior muscle, which lifts and lowers the foot. You are suffering from anterior shin splints, or anterior tibial stress syndrome, if the pain intensifies when lifting the toes up while keeping heels on the floor.
Posterior Shin Splints
Posterior shin splints are located on the inside rear area of the tibia. They affect the tibialis posterior muscle, which controls and lifts the medial part of the foot arch during the weight-bearing support stage. You are likely suffering from posterior shin splints or a tibial stress fracture if you feel a dull, aching pain along the inside rear of your shinbone.
Shin Splints or Stress Fracture
Constant shin pain does not always indicate shin splints. Shooting pain in the lower leg can be a stress fracture or a small crack or break in the fibula or tibia. This type of injury is far more serious than shin splints. To look for evidence of a stress fracture, press your fingertips along your shin and feel for sharp, localized pain. The pain caused by shin splints tends to be more generalized than that caused by a stress fracture.
What Causes Shin Splints?
The exact cause of severe shin splints is not yet fully understood, but typically, shin splints are caused by overuse or overtraining of muscles attached to the shin bone.
Too much sprinting, running, or jumping often causes shin splints, but the injury may also occur due to improper form and abnormal movement patterns. Determining the underlying cause is essential to deciding which treatment for shin splints will be most effective. Below are common causes of shin splints:
Increasing training intensity too quickly
Oversupination of the feet
Overpronation of the feet
Running on angled or hard surfaces
Poor knee flexion alignment
Tight hamstrings or calf muscles
Poor core stability
Shin Splints Symptoms
The symptoms of shin splints often arise gradually. What do shin splints feel like? They hurt! With shin splints, pain is usually worse the next morning and eases over time. Then it may become painful again later on. Typically, shin splints cause dull muscle aches before progressing to mild shooting pains with tenderness and swelling. Bruising and small bumps on the shin may also appear.
The most common trigger for shin pain is beginning a fitness regimen too aggressively. Shin splints from walking occur when you increase your distance and speed quickly. Shin splints often become so severe that even standing causes throbbing pain.
Shin Splints Diagnosis
An early and accurate diagnosis is key to speed the healing of shin splints. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination after discussing your symptoms, previous activities, and general health.
Additional imaging tests, such as X-rays or bone scans, may be required to confirm the signs of shin splints or to rule out other injuries.
Shin Splints Treatment
Begin treatment as soon as you experience the symptoms of shin splints to prevent them from turning into a stress fracture, which may require weeks of rest to heal properly. After discussing your particular case with your doctor, try these safe and effective treatment options:
The standard remedy for shin splints includes several weeks of rest from vigorous activities. Your leg needs time to heal. While you are recovering, stay active with low-impact exercises, such as yoga, swimming, or tai chi.
In most cases, shin splints can be treated with over-the-counter drugs—such as naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen—to ease the pain and discomfort of inflammation. These nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can have side effects, though, so they should only be used occasionally unless your doctor says otherwise.
Applying an ice pack to shin splints reduces inflammation and pain, providing immediate relief. ( See Product on Amazon)
Use a high-quality cold pack to immediately relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Apply an ice pack for about fifteen minutes every few hours immediately following injury. Remember to place a towel or t-shirt between the ice pack and the skin to prevent burns. Icing shin splints for short periods reduces pain and swelling while promoting healing.
Shin Splint Support
The correct shin splint support is extremely beneficial for both shin splint prevention and recovery. After shin splints have healed, wearing a brace or sleeve during activity will help you prevent re-injury.
Shin Splint Brace
A brace for shin splints relieves soreness, especially when worn during exercise. ( See Product on Amazon)
Neoprene calf braces alleviate pain and discomfort caused by shin splints, and they relieve muscle soreness and help you recovery more quickly. They are easy to fit, skin-friendly, and are adjustable to your specifications. A brace provides stability for your leg and shin and is an easy and comfortable way to treat shin splints.
Shin Splints Compression
Compression sleeves reduce swelling and improve circulation to help you recover more quickly. ( See Product on Amazon)
To relieve the painful symptoms of shin splints, socks or sleeves are an easy solution. They ease pain, boost muscle performance, and provide optimum support while you recover. The warmth from compression socks or knee sleeves increases blood flow and eases inflammation.
Wearing appropriate shoes and insoles for shin splints is crucial to both recovery and prevention. The best shoes for shin splints feature durable and breathable material, heel and toe impact protection, and shock attenuation midsoles. Replace your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles to ensure your shoes provide adequate levels of support and shock absorption. The best running shoes for shin splints have superior cushioning and uncompromised stability.
Shin Splint Exercises
Stretches for shin splints release tension in the muscles of your lower leg. By regularly stretching, shin splints can be treated quickly and effectively. Once the pain has subsided, try the following exercises for shin splints to prevent the injury from recurring. To ensure a healthy recovery process, speak to your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any new exercise routine.
Seated Shin Stretch
Step 1: Kneel down, resting your weight on your heels. Lean backward and place your palms flat on the floor.
Step 2: Slowly push down on your heels to stretch the front of your leg.
Step 3: Hold the position for 30 seconds, then relax.
Step 4: Perform 3 repetitions.
Step 1: Position yourself facing a wall, using your hands for support.
Step 2: Slightly bend your knees, with one leg in front of the other. Keep your heels on the floor.
Step 3: You should feel a stretch in the lower part of your back leg.
Step 4: Hold the position for 30 to 90 seconds.
Step 5: Repeat 3 times per leg.
Gastrocnemius Muscle Stretch
Step 1: Lean against the wall with one knee slightly bent and the other leg straight, keeping the back heel pushed into the floor.
Step 2: Feel a stretch in the back of your lower leg.
Step 3: Hold the position for 20 seconds, then relax.
Step 4: Repeat 3 times per leg.
Step 1: Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
Step 2: Slowly lift your toes, keeping your heel on the floor.
Step 3: Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds. Repeat with the other foot.
Heel and Toe Walking
Step 1: Place your heel on the floor, and slowly raise high onto your toes.
Step 2: Slowly walk the length of a room in this manner, strengthening the shin and calf muscles.
Step 3: Slowly increase your distance.
Shin Splints Taping
Taping shin splints is a smart idea to prevent pain and injury during activity and exercise. Wrapping shin splints reduces the strain on your lower leg and on soft tissues. Tape your injured shins until the pain is gone, and consider continuing your taping routine to prevent re-injury.
Simple home remedies are often sufficient to heal shin splints, but persistent or severe shin pain can be a serious problem. Rare cases of shin splints require surgery, which may be the best options for those with a compartment syndrome or severe stress fracture.
Shin Splints Recovery
The healing time of shin splints depends on their cause. Although each injury is different, the common shin splints recovery questions below will help you to gain insight into your situation. Consult your doctor with any questions.
How Long Do Shin Splints Last?
People recover at different rates, but three to six months is the typical recovery time. If the pain subsides in two to four weeks, you may slowly return to activities. Avoid aggravating bad shin splints—doing so may lead to more serious conditions.
Can You Run with Shin Splints?
Running with shin splints can be extremely dangerous. When shin splints strike, stop running to let your shins heal. Consider low-impact activities, such as swimming or bike riding, to stop shin splints from getting worse. When you return to running, increase your mileage slowly to keep your shin splints from coming back.
How to Recover from Shin Splints
Once you recover from shin splints, prevention is necessary to keep your shins healthy. Exercise in a moderate and healthy way. Increase duration and intensity of exercises gradually to ensure your body is prepared.
Follow-Up Care for Shin Splints
Shin splints are common, especially for those who overwork their body, do not wear correct shoes, or fail to warm up. Fortunately, you can treat and prevent shin splints easily with cold therapy, exercising, bracing, and taping. If you are prone to shin pain, ask your doctor how to avoid shin splints during your follow-up appointment.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
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