Shin splints are associated with pain along the tibia, which is the long bone on the front part of the lower leg. The official name of the condition is medial tibial stress syndrome. Similar in nature to stress fractures, shin splints usually develop due to overtraining, or by a sudden variation in a training regiment. The condition is actually an inflammation of the muscles, bones, and tendons in the immediate area of the tibia.
Shin splints can be initiated in a number of ways, but are usually a result of stresses beyond the level of conditioning of the affected muscles and tendons. For instance, an increase in the frequency of runs per week could be to blame. Also, a change in training to include hills and pavement could cause the condition. Military recruits are often at risk due to the sudden increase in walking, running, and standing that they experience in recruit training.
Another factor leading to shin splints could be the use of worn out shoes, or shoes inappropriate for the activity. This is a common theme associated with the cause of a variety of foot conditions. Runners with flat feet, or fallen arches, can be particularly susceptible to shin splints unless precautions with proper footwear are followed.
Some swelling may be associated with shin splints, along with soreness along the leg which often decreases when the activity stops. Initial treatment of the condition should include ice and OTC pain relievers. Rest is recommended, usually for a couple of weeks. During the period of rest, a cross training program can be developed. This can include swimming, biking, ellipitical machines, yoga, and many other forms of exercise.
When restarting your primary activity, it is important to begin at a lower level of intensity and frequency to ensure that the condition is not re-aggravated. A typical program would be distance and pace both decreased by half initially from the pre-injury level. Barring any setbacks, the distance should be ramped up slowly over a 4 to 6 week period. The pace should not be increased until the distance is back to normal.
If the pain returns right away, it is usually time to get a physician involved. He may prescribe stronger NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines) to help relieve the inflammation. Sometimes physical therapy can help, especially with flexibility exercises. He may find that orthotics are essential to alleviating the condition, especially in the case of flat feet. An x-ray may be performed to see if another related problem may be present, such as stress fractures. It is very rare for surgery to be performed for shin splints.
To reduce the likelihood of having shin splints again, stretching and strengthening exercises should be incorporated into the training program. Strengthening the calf muscles via toe raises can help prevent re-injury. Other leg exercises such as leg presses can help to condition the muscles and tendons so that the workout intensities can be increased. The effectiveness of good training shoes cannot be over-emphasized. Improper foot mechanics may make orthotics imperative to avoid shin splints, as well as other related foot injuries.
Photos courtesy Flickr.com/Julie F; bearclau