Running Injuries: What Are Shin Splints?

shin splints
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Shin splints refer to lower leg pain, below the knee, presenting either on the outside of the leg, up front (anterior shin splints), or inside the leg (medial shin splints). Shins splints are most likely inflammation or small tears in the lower leg muscles or their connecting tendons.

They show up commonly in runners, skiers, dancers, lifters, and other very active people. They may occur more often after a sudden increase in amount or intensity of activity.

Symptoms

The symptom of shin splints is a tight or sharp pain, either on the front exterior of the shin, or within the lower leg itself. Not all shin pain is shin splints. Shin pain may result from a variety of other conditions.

Pain within the lower leg could be a sign of compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome occurs when the pressure in the muscles exceeds normal levels, causing pain and compression of blood vessels, which cuts off oxygen to the nerves and muscle cells. Pain is a major symptom which gets worse with foot movement. In the chronic form, pain diminishes when exercise is stopped.

Pain in the lower leg could also be a stress fracture, a tiny crack or splinter in the bone, caused by overuse.

Common Causes

Overuse, overexertion, or improper running or exercising form and mechanics can all contribute to shin splints. Always make sure to stretch and to warm up before runs and activities. Work up to longer distances or more intense workouts – don’t jump right in.

Treatment

Stop running –  or at least heavily decrease your activity, depending on how severe the pain is and how long it lasts. You can use ice or heat on the shins to relieve pain.

Do gentle but firm stretching of the legs – especially the calves and the ankles.

Consider cross-training for a while to let your shin heal. Swim, run in the pool or ride a bike.

When you start running again, consider the following:

Your running shoes – make sure they are new, in good condition, and that they fit properly. Consider getting cushioning insoles to lighten the amount of stress put on your legs.

Always be stretching before and after every run.

Consider the terrain you run on – it may be better for you, and easier, if you are recovering from shin splints, to run on a flat or softer surface, rather than hard trails or runs with varying elevations.

Try wrapping your leg, or maybe try out tension tape. These can provide support and pressure on the muscles to prevent them from coming off of the bone as easily and causing pain.

If your pain is extreme or persistent, make sure to see your doctor. Physical therapy also can help with pain from shin splints.

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