Although the term shin splints is used to describe any “unexplainable” pain in the lower leg or calf, it is actually a condition that is characterized by pain that runs along the inner edge of the shin bone or tibia. It's commonly associated with specific types of exercise or in runners who run long distances. The medical term for shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome. Shin splints can be extremely painful, making it difficult to walk or remain active. The more you move, the more pain you will experience. While there are several causes for this type of injury, treatment is relatively simple and by following the doctor's orders, you will be back on your feet in no time.
What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints can have many causes. Performing the same motions over and over again can create stress on the joints. When the muscles and bones are overworked from constant repetitive motion, shin splints can begin to develop. Inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and tibia can lead to extreme pain and discomfort. The pain is generally centered around the spot where the muscles attach to the tibia. The pain can then radiate up into the knee or downward into the calf.
Shin splints are the result of sudden changes in exercise patterns or physical activity. The condition is common in runners who run long distances or through rugged terrain. They are common in people who don't have a regular exercise schedule. Changes in intensity and duration may also play a role. It's also important to note that wearing shoes or other footwear that doesn't fit properly or have uneven wear patterns can also lead to shin splints.
Runners who travel over hard surfaces, downhill or on slanted hills are commonly at risk of shin splints. Improper training methods, lack of flexibility, and pushing too hard while not being physically prepared for the activity are all possible causes for shin splints. Having flat feet and not wearing the proper orthotics may increase your risk of this type of injury. Knowing your risks can help you to potentially lower the possibility of re-injuring yourself or actually making shin splints worse. Not taking care of the injured area can lead to a build-up of scar tissues as well as strains, sprains, and stress fractures.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom of shin splints is the sharp pain at the point where the tibia and muscles join together. While the pain may lessen when you take the weight off of your leg, as soon as you take another step or pivot on your ankle the discomfort immediately returns. The pain associated with shin splints can appear at any time but often sets in as your body starts to cool down after a long workout or run. Abruptly stopping a workout without cooling down, may actually make the pain worse.
The area may appear to be slightly inflamed and warm to the touch, but this will fade leaving behind the pain and discomfort. The pain may begin as a dull ache or can develop slowly throughout your exercise routine. The pain of shin splints normally runs along either side of the tibia or shin bone and in the muscles. The entire length of the lower leg may be tender to the touch, depending on the severity of the shin splints. If the condition is left untreated, numbness and muscle weakness may gradually extend downward into the feet. If your shin is noticeable hot and swollen, you need to see a doctor immediately. Stress fractures are common if you participate in extreme sports and other forms of intense physical activities.
Possible Treatment Options
Rest is the best treatment option for shin splints. There are no broken bones so immobilizing the area only offers support to the muscles. Reducing your activity level and keeping your legs elevated is the best way to take stress off of the affected area. Over the counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories can be used to reduce the pain and discomfort, but with shin splints, time is the best remedy. Compression bandages and ice packs may also help to control the pain and speed the healing process. Ice packs reduce the swelling and numb the pain. A small foam roller can be used to massage your shins and restore blood flow to the area. Surgery is not commonly associated with shin splints, but your doctor may recommend it to help relax the fascia that encases the calf of your leg. Small incisions will allow the fascia to relax, reducing the tightness and discomfort in the area.
After a shin splints diagnosis, your doctor will recommend complete rest for the first few days. The longer you remain active, the more severe the pain will become. Allowing your body a few days rest gives the injured area time to start healing. Elevating the area and applying ice packs will relax the tissues, allowing the inflammation to gradually disappear so that blood flow to the area can be restored. Ice packs will help to break up the inflammation.
When you start to get back on your feet, wrapping your calf with a compression bandage will provide much-needed support and act as a constant reminder to take it easy while you are healing. It's important that you don't jump back into your exercise routines at full speed. Give your leg time to fully heal before forcing it to endure a full workout. Work the muscles around the area or try aquatic exercises or swimming laps. Swimming is a great workout because you don't put full stress on the leg. Instead, the body uses your own weight as resistance, allowing the ability to regain your strength without overwhelming the injury.
Preventing Future Injuries
Once you've had shin splints, you want to make sure you don't get them again. Every movement of your lower leg becomes painful. Inflexibility, muscle weakness, and improper workout techniques are common causes of shin splints. If you want to prevent them in the future, your best bet is to remain the best possible physical condition at all times. Exercise regular, swim often, walk everywhere, and always make sure to do each exercise how it was intended to be performed. If you're unsure, talk to a trainer and have them show you the correct way to do it. This will dramatically reduce your risk of injury and will keep you from dealing with injuries like shin splints.
The Importance of Warming Up and Cooling Down
Shin splints are a common injury that is often associated with inflexibility, rapid and spontaneous movements, and not being physically ready for intense activity. Trying to jump into an athletic activity without properly warming is a quick lesson in pain. Especially if you will be stopping and starting quickly, causing your muscles to perform incredibly fast without being prepared. Not only does this leave you open to shin splints, it can also make you prone to strains, sprains, stress fractures, and actually tears in both the muscles and tendons. Properly warming up and cooling down will reduce your risk of these types of injuries.
Cooling down exercises gives the body time to slow down and drop back into its natural balance. The heartbeat slows and your blood pressure stabilizes. Your muscles gradually cool down and, although they continue to burn calories, the begin to relax. This allows blood flow to the area to return to normal. Cooling down is just as important as warming the body up before a stressful workout. Muscles can start to cramp if they cool down too quickly. Simply walking around or stretching for five or 10 minutes after a long workout can prevent cramps and shin splints from sneaking up on you.
If you are a runner, an athlete, or simply someone who has flat feet and are constantly being bothered by conditions like shin splints, your first phone call should be to Dr. Leonora Fihman. She is one of the most well-known and well-respected podiatrists in the Los Angeles area. You can schedule a visit to her Beverly Hills office or you can choose her concierge service. If you prefer the concierge service, all you have to do is schedule an appointment and she will meet you at your location, whether it be at your office or at home. Her mobile office contains everything she needs to be able to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. Don't live another day in pain! Call Dr. Fihman and schedule your appointment as soon as possible. Once she has made a diagnosis, she will formulate a personalized treatment plan that is sure to get you back on your feet and into the swing of things in a short amount of time.