Shin Splints: Treatment, Causes, and Prevention
Thousands of runners are affected by a dreaded injury known as shin splints. The injury causes a severe pain in the shin area (obviously) between the knee and the ankle. The injury is enough to cause bruising in this area, and severe sharp pains that can prevent physical activity altogether. This injury is a fairly common injury, especially among runners and is one that can end a productive season for any athlete. However, there are some specific causes of shin splints that can be avoided if preventative measures are taken and there are forms of treatment that can speed an athlete on his or her way to recovery.
Well, your shins probably hurt and that is one obvious symptom. However, shin splints usually progress, meaning they start off as a mild pain and the intensity increases as you continue to train. If you experience at first soreness and tenderness in your lower legs you may be headed for shin splints. Mild pain will be followed by more intense pain that will persist after a workout or run, often resulting int he swelling of your lower legs.
When shin splints become severe, they can lead to bruising, and continuous pain in your lower legs even days after a workout. Shin pains will become worse as you exercise and as you place added stress on your legs. Pain may be severe where impacts are increased such as running up or down hills.
Causes of Shin Splints
Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is caused by muscle imbalance, overloading muscles in the lower legs or through bio mechanical flaws in an athlete. There is essentially too much stress placed on the connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone in your lower legs. The stress can come from a number of different causes
- Training too hard or over training is one significant cause of shin splints in many athletes. OVertraining can fatigue certain muscle groups and create stress in your lower legs leading to shin splints. Stress fractures, tiny cracks in bones from overuse can also cause a similar pain to shin splints and should not be ruled out unless you see a doctor.
- Running too much on uneven or hilly surfaces. Uneven surfaces place uneven stresses on the body and as such can increase your risk of injury. Running for too long downhill or on slanted surfaces can aggravate your lower leg muscles and create the specific stresses that contribute to shin splints.
- Running in worn out running shoes or inappropriate shoes. Running in the wrong style of shoe or in worn out shoes can also place uneven stress on your body. Not only is the shoe not doing what it is designed to do, it may be fighting your bio mechanics and creating an injury.
- Frequent stop and start motions also place awkward stress on the body and the sudden impacts can wreak havoc on the lower legs which are absorbing most of the stress.
- 'Faulty' bio mechanics and weak calf muscles can also contribute to shin splints. It is always important to consider that your form may contribute to an injury especially when it deteriorates from being overtired or over training.
Treatment and Prevention
The treatment for shin splints is a simple yet frustrating one. The first step is to rest. Rest your shins and let the injury heal itself. This can be aided with ice, anti-inflammatories, stretching and massage. Make sure to take care to eliminate swelling in your lower legs by keeping them elevated if possible. Ice often, and make sure to take care when using nay drugs even over the counter anti-inflammatory medication. If you feel that you may have a stress fracture, or if the pain does not go away to some degree after a few days of not training, you should consult a doctor.
When you do run, try to stay on flat soft surfaces as you ease back into training. Going right back into your old routine will simply cause your injury to resurface and make life miserable again. Make sure that your shoes are appropriate and not old or worn out as going back to running in broken down running shoes will lead to injury again.
Try to limit your training and let your body to recover, pushing too hard with a recent injury is likely to cause its reappearance. If you have biomechanical issues or suspect that you do it is best to see a doctor who may be able to help you with orthotics or arch supports to supplement your recover training.
To prevent shin splints be sure to do all the basic necessities that you may be neglecting. Make sure to stretch, and wear appropriate shoes. Try to limit your training on hard surfaces such as concrete, and keep your body health with a good fluid intake and diet.
To strengthen your calf muscles, which will aid in preventing shin splints, calf or toe raises are a great exercise. These can be performed on both legs together and then progressed to single leg only. Stand with the feet should width apart and knees straight. You want want something to hold on to. Lift the heels off the floor as high as possible by standing on your toes and then lowe heels to the floor. Repeat in sets of 10 to 20. You may choose to progress to one foot only. To further strenthgen calf muscles after several weeks of these exercises you can stand on a step with the heel off the back perform the excercise but lower the heel down past the level of the step. You may also choose to add weight by holding dumbells while doing these excercises to futher strenthen calf muscles.
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