The term "shin splints", usually caused by medial tibial stress syndrome, refers to pain in the front of the lower leg.
Through exercise, muscles get stronger. As muscles get stronger, they pull on the bones to which they are attached, making the bones stronger as well. Sometimes the muscles grow faster than the bones, causing the muscles to pull harder on the bones than the bones are strong enough to handle resulting in a tear in the outer layer (periosteum). These microscopic tears can be very painful and occur most commonly in the shins, causing you to develop shin splints. Once the outer layer of the bone begins to tear, the shin can become inflamed and cause pain, redness and swelling in the muscles and tendons in the area.
The reason shin splints sometimes arise after you've been running regularly is because of the added strain on the shins. Every time the foot hits the pavement, the muscles in the front of the shin pull on the tibia (shin bone). If the amount of pull is stronger than the bone can handle, you may develop shin splints.
Thankfully, shin splints heal easily and are quite preventable. The only infallible solution to the condition is rest. Once you develop shin splints, it is important to take some time away from exercise until they are healed completely. Depending on the severity of the shin splints, it may take anywhere from one to six weekes of rest to heal entirely although there are a few things that can help the healing process along. Things like ice, anti-inflammatory medications, athletic tape, shoe inserts, and specific stretching and strengthening exercises can help ease the pain and reduce inflammation.
Although treatment is simple, prevention is far less painful. Here are a few things you can do to avoid shin splints:
- Wear shoes that offer good support and fit correctly.
- If you know that you are prone to shin splints, ice after every workout to help avoid inflammation.
- Stretch before and after exercise to keep the muscles of the ankle and shin flexible.
- If you have shin splints, wait until they are fully healed before exercising again. If you start too soon, they will probably come right back.
- Try to avoid running on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt. These hard flat surfaces cause the feet to hit the ground harder and put more stress on the shins.
- If you are new to running or have recently recovered from shin splints, try to ease into it. Muscles and the cardiovascular system get stronger much faster than bones, so allow your shin bones time to catch up.
- Besides running, activities that require jumping (like plyometric exercises and certain sports) can cause shin splints aw well. When participating in these activities stay aware of landing softly by bending your knees and avoiding hard foot slaps.
There are several things you can do to treat and prevent shin splints, but make sure to check with your doctor for more guidance and support in treating your condition.