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Shin splints: Treatment and prevention tips you need to know

Have you ever wondered why your shins were throbbing after running or catching a pickup basketball game with your friends? Typically, this displeasure is called “shin splints,” but a doctor may refer to shin splints as “medial tibial stress syndrome”.

What Are Shin Splints?

Shin splints is a pain that occurs below the knee at the middle of the inside shin caused by repetitive stress and overuse. Dancers, volleyball players, basketball players, tennis players and runners have a higher chance of developing shin splints due to the amount of stress and repetitive pounding on a hard surface. Early in the development, athletes announce pain in the start of exercise that diminishes as activity continues but returns when the activity is finished.

How to Treat Shin Splints

Rest

Rest is a huge factor in the healing process. Rest, activity modification and avoiding the upsetting activities are typically effective. In severe cases, crutches can be used to avoid weight bearing to facilitate complete rest.

Anti-inflammatories

NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin) are often used to decrease pain and inflammation caused by the aggravation. NSAIDs should only be used occasionally as they are known to have side effects that can result in ulcers and bleeding. You should follow up with your primary care physician for drug recommendations.

Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy (cold therapy) is also commonly used in the early shin splint progression. Ice bucket or an ice bag may be applied after exercise for no longer than 15-20 min to decrease pain and additional inflammation.An ice massage (frozen water bottle) on the front of the shin can also add a light massage to the affected area while decreasing inflammation.

Footwear

Many reports have found that appropriate footwear can reduce the occurrence of shin splints. Athletes should seek out shoes with necessary shock-absorbing soles and insoles for their activity — as they reduce the amount of pressure and load to the lower extremity, preventing replication. Shoes should fit properly with a stable heel stand.

Alternating shoes can also decrease the chances of recurrent shin splints.

Orthotics

For individuals with lower extremity complications, they may benefit from orthotics. Over-the-counter orthosis (externally applied device/brace) help with moderate foot inversion, flat feet and pronation. Incorrect alignment or deformity may benefit from custom orthotics provided by your podiatrist.

Foot and ankle flexibility and strength

Research has extensively supported daily self-lead ankle range of motion, calf stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent injury and muscle fatigue. Exercises focus on strengthening the back of the lower leg and inverters while the focuses of flexibility are on the front of the lower leg and eversion muscles of the foot and ankle.

Massage

Although cryotherapy is the go-to treatment after workout, proper warm up is recommended before exercise. Shin splints are often caused by extremely tight lower extremity muscles. A tight calf muscle plays a huge role in the cause of shin splints. Before massage and foam rolling, the lower extremity should be properly warmed up with a moist heat pack or warm water to prevent further damage caused by the massage.

If you believe you may be experiencing pain from shin splints, talk with your primary care physician to rule out any other possible condition(s) that may include stress fractures, muscle strains and chronic anterior compartment syndrome.

Ready to move better? Our orthopedic experts can help.

About the author

Caylie Ginther
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Caylie Ginther is an athletic trainer for Baylor Scott & White Health.

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Shin splints: Treatment and prevention tips you need to know