Shin splints can cause a variety of different symptoms. You do not have to experience all of these signs in order to be diagnosed with the condition.
Your shins throb and ache after your daily run or just sprinting to catch the bus.
It could be shin splints. They can be caused by:
- Irritated and swollen muscles, often from overuse
- Stress fractures, which are tiny breaks in the lower leg bones
- Overpronation or ”flat feet” — when the impact of a step makes your foot’s arch collapse
- Weakness in stabilizing muscles of the hips or core
runner standing on track
Common Signs and Symptoms
- a dull ache in the front part of your lower leg
- pain in your leg that develops during your exercise
- pain on either side of your shin bone
- muscle pain in your lower leg
- pain, tenderness or soreness in the inner area of your lower leg
- mild swelling in your lower leg
- numbness or weakness in your feet
Shin splints are very common. Runners might get them after ramping up their workout intensity, or changing the surface they run on – like shifting from a dirt path to asphalt. Shin splints are also common in dancers.
You may find that your leg pain lessens or goes away when you stop exercising. This is a common function of shin splints. If the pain continues even when you are no longer active, you may have a more severe injury, such as a stress fracture.
Causes of Shin Splints
Runners are most at risk for shin splints because of the repetitive motion and the impact of running. If you increase your workout suddenly rather than working up to the exercise or if you change your usual running surface, you are more likely to experience shin splints.
However, you can still get shin splints even if you are not a regular runner. Some other common causes of this injury include:
- overpronation or flat feet
- inadequate stretching or lack of flexibility
- worn-out shoes
- excessive stress on your legs
- imbalance between the strength of your calf muscles and the strength of the muscles in the front of your leg
- weakness in the stabilizing muscles of your hips or core
- previous history of shin splints
- sudden increase in the frequency, duration or intensity of your training
- As a general rule, you should not increase your workout or training practices more than 10 percent in a given week. Exceeding this limit, no matter your form of exercise, will make you more likely to damage your legs and to experience shin splints.
Most doctors and physicians will give you a physical exam in order to determine whether or not your pain is from shin splints. You will be asked about your recent physical activities, your level of participation and your frequency of activity. These questions can indicate whether or not you are suffering from an overuse injury like shin splints.
If your doctor suspects shin splints but cannot make a determination based on the physical exam, he or she may prescribe further diagnostic testing. This typically includes imaging scans.
Most doctors will begin with an X-ray to show possible damage to your shin bone. If more problems are suspected in your tendons or your muscles, an MRI may also be prescribed.
- Get Some Rest
The best way to get rid of shin splints is to rest. You need to completely stop running or doing your damaging physical activity to give the bones, muscles and tendons time to heal and to stop hurting.The length of time for your rest really depends on your injury and on your pain level. You may need to stop until the pain is gone. While you are resting your legs, make sure to apply ice for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for at least a couple of days. You can also take some anti-inflammatory painkillers to help with the pain and swelling.
If you cannot force yourself to rest and you feel like you must continue your normal running or other exercise routine, wrap your leg in a neoprene sleeve, Ace bandage or medical tape. Start the wrap just above your ankle, and continue it all the way up to the area just below your knee. This will help to stabilize your muscles and tendons to prevent added stress on them while you heal.
- Stretch and Loosen Your Muscles
Because your shin splints may be caused by inflexible muscles, you need to carefully stretch yourself throughout your exercise routine.If you have medial shin splints, you need to focus your stretching on your Achilles tendon. However, if your pain seems to be anterior, work on loosening your calves.
One of the best stretches you can do for your shin splints is to kneel on the floor. Choose carpeting for more comfort for your knees and ankles. Keep your legs and feet together, and point your toes straight backward. Slowly sit taller, leaning back on your calves and heels until your ankles are straightened. Hold this position for 10-12 seconds, then relax and repeat the motion.
Another option for strengthening your ankles and shins is to sit on a chair and trace the alphabet with your toes. Go through all 26 letters with each foot.
You could also try walking on your heels for 30 seconds before switching to 30 seconds of normal walking. If you repeat this process four times in a row, up to three times a day, you will have looser muscles and tendons.
- Change Your Activities Temporarily
If you cannot bring yourself to take some time off from your exercise routine, try to switch your methods with another form of exercise. For example, if running is what damaged your shine bones, try cross-training in the pool or on a bicycle instead. Pick up yoga or another form of exercise so that you can do your workout without damaging your legs even more.You may find that there is another type of exercise that you like just as well as your injury-causing activity. Alternating exercise methods, even when you are healthy, is a great way to avoid damage and overuse injuries.
- Try to Lose Some Weight
If you are a little bit overweight, you are putting extra pressure and stress on your bones and muscles every time you exercise. Of course, that exercise can help you lose some of the weight, but you should also be aware of your diet.Switching to leaner meats, whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables can help you lose some of the extra pounds, making your body mass less painful for your legs. In addition, overweight people often have flatter feet and have a tendency to overpronate their ankles. Dropping some of your weight could also help you eliminate these common causes for shin splints.
- Ease Back into Your Workout
When you are ready to begin your running or other more vigorous exercise again, ease into it slowly. If you start back up at the same level at which you stopped, you will be overdoing it, and you will face another injury. Instead, increase your frequency, duration and intensity slowly, at no more than the recommended 10 percent each week.Make sure that you are also wearing proper shoes for your foot type, especially if you are an overpronator or if you have flat feet. Consider having more than one good pair of shoes and alternating them to vary the amount of stress you experience on your legs. Always tie them tightly to give you more stability, and consider getting assistance from a shoe professional to find the right style and fit for you.
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